Making a lard pie crust

Rendering lard
Is hard.

That’s been my mantra for the past 15 years. It was about that long ago that I made my first attempt at a pie crust made with lard. It was also that long ago that I rendered lard.

Or tried…

Having made a few different pie crust recipes using multiple methods (butter, Crisco, butter and Crisco, a food processor, roll it between plastic wrap, etc.) at this point, I really missed the unbeatable flavor and delicate, flaky crust that only my grandma could produce. She made lard crusts, so I thought I should, too. Naturally, I consulted her for step-by-step directions on the perfect crust.

Somewhere between “get some lard” and “line the pie plate with the bottom crust”, things got a little fuzzy.

After purchasing a pound of lard at the grocery store, I proceeded to melt the lard in a pan on the stove. After allowing the lard to cool to room temperature, the lard was very soft. I followed the rest of my grandma’s instructions, combining the lard with the flour, and adding water a little at a time to what was already an overly-moist dough. When I finished, I had a very wet, messy blob that I could not even begin to roll out.

I was devastated!

Apparently, my grandma knew a lot more about making lard pie crust than I ever would, or at least more than she cared to share with me. She also knew a lot more about rendering lard.

The next time I saw my grandma, I shared with her my disappointment that I wouldn’t be a lard crust maker after all, and she asked me what went wrong. That’s when I began to explain how I rendered the lard as she told me to. My grandma responded with, “Mindy, why on Earth would you do that? I didn’t tell you to render the lard yourself; it’s already been rendered!”

I guess somewhere between “get some lard” and “line the pie plate with the bottom crust”, my grandma had explained to me how lard is rendered, and that ideally, I should try to get my lard from someone, such as a local farmer, who renders their own lard. Not that I had to do it myself. And not that I had any idea what “rendering” really meant!

(For those of you who are wondering, you can check out an article on how to render your own lard from Mother Earth News.)

While my mantra over the past 15 years might not be all that accurate depending upon your views of a do-it-yourself lifestyle, I have become a lard pie crust maker after all. I still don’t render my own lard (I’m still trying to get over my little mishap with rendering lard even though I wasn’t rendering lard), but I have learned the difference between the store-bought commercial stuff, which is hydrogenated, and lard that comes from local farms where they do their own rendering. It might look the same, but once the delicate, flaky crust made with natural lard falls apart on your tongue, you’ll know the difference, too. You can taste it.

For those of you around central Iowa, you can get this lard at Wheatsfield Cooperative in Ames. This tub was just over 4 lbs for $8.19, and it comes from Rosmann Family Farms near Harlan, IA.
I took a break from making a pie this week so I could finally share with you my recipe for lard crust, along with a few tips. After all, like my grandma used to say, a pie is only as good as its crust, and if the crust isn’t any good, that’s a pie I don’t want to eat. (Fortunately for me, being her granddaughter and all, my grandma lovingly overlooked the pie crusts I made while she was alive and politely ate my pies anyway!)

Yours in pie,


Lard Pie Crust

Makes enough dough for one double-crust pie.

3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 c. very cold lard, cut into small pieces

Ice water

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the pieces of lard and use a pastry blender to cut the lard into the flour until evenly distributed and the pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 T. of ice water over the mixture and stir gently with a fork (as to fluff it up). Repeat as often as needed until all the dough is properly moistened.

Divide dough into two parts and form each part into a round disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour. Before rolling out dough, remove from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

If making a pre-baked pie crust, after rolling out one of the disks of dough and placing it in the pie plate, trim the pastry to about ½-inch beyond the pie plate. Fold under and crimp the edge as desired. Generously prick the bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Line the pastry with parchment paper and pie weights (dried beans work as well). Bake in a 450° oven for 8 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment paper, and bake for another 5-6 minutes until golden, watching carefully and pricking with a fork as needed. Cool on a wire rack.

A few tips…

·        When using natural, locally-purchased lard especially, work very quickly. Because it is not hydrogenated, this lard gets soft easily and works best when it’s very, very cold. After measuring and cutting it into small pieces, I put it back in the freezer before cutting it into the flour.

·        Keep everything cold, especially the lard and the water. A flaky crust depends on the little specks of lard melting during baking and creating tiny pockets of air, forming the layers. The colder the ingredients, the greater chance the lard will not get soft and begin to melt, until it hits the heat in the oven.

·        The amount of ice water you need will vary. On a very warm, very humid day, I’ve used as little as 4 T., while other days I’ve needed as much as 8 T. ice water. You just have to know the dough to decide when you’ve added enough.

·        Know your dough! After a lot of practice, you know just how much cutting in of the lard you need to do and exactly when to stop adding water, to get the right consistency. Notice how the dough looks, and feel the pressure of the dough on the fork while adding water.

·        Roll out dough from the center. I’m a center-out roller. I think this method allows for uniform thickness and shape, while preventing the dough from rolling back up on the rolling pin, as can happen with back-and-forth rolling. Sometimes I turn the dough often while rolling to prevent it from sticking to my countertop, but usually I keep a bench scraper handy when transferring dough to the pie plate.

·        When transferring the dough to the pie plate, carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin, using the bench scraper to help lift the dough off the countertop if it’s sticking at all. I think this method allows you to position the crust how you want it in the pie plate without stretching it. (Any stretching of the dough will result in a shrinking crust, so don’t stretch it!)

·        For a pie with a top crust, brush the top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle with sparkling or course sugar. Some people like to use an egg wash for a pretty golden crust with a sheen, but I like milk because it seems to give the crust an extra touch of tender, while helping it stay flexible enough to “move” with the filling during baking (so you don’t get a hollow dome). The sparkling sugar gives the pie, well, sparkle! It’s just pretty.

·        Cover the edges of the pie with foil or use a pie shield, to prevent the edges from over-browning. I usually start baking a two-crust fruit pie at 375° for about 15 minutes, to help set the top crust and crisp up the bottom crust. Then I lower the oven temp. to 350° and bake for another 45 minutes before removing the foil. I then bake the pie for another 15 minutes, depending on the color of the crust and if the filling is bubbling.

·        Do what works for you! Everyone has different methods for making pie crust, and after you’ve done it for a while, you do what works the best for you. You might prefer an egg wash to milk, or perhaps you enjoy getting your hands in there to make the dough. You might even like your results better with butter or Crisco rather than with lard. (Bite your tongue!) It doesn’t matter what works for someone else if it doesn’t work for you. You’ll know what works based on whether or not you want to eat the pie when you’re done!



Evelyn Birkby, and Barbershop Gooseberry Pie

Always put in a recipe.

That was the advice of Willard Archie, publisher of the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, to Evelyn Birkby back in 1949, as she embarked upon what would become a so-far 63-year journey in writing her weekly newspaper column, “Up a Country Lane”.

Life is a choice. Do what’s important.

That was Evelyn’s advice to me just a few years ago, in June of 2010, during a lecture she gave at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. I had heard over the radio that Evelyn would be there, so I contacted her by email to see if I could attend. (I was not Simpson alum, as this was a special alumni event.) She assured me that I could and should attend, and to please introduce myself while there so she could connect a face to the name.

You might be wondering why I was so determined to attend an event that was not exactly aimed at me…..

I’ve always been interested in anything Iowa, particularly Iowa food and history. Combine the two, and that’s what I found one day more than ten years ago while browsing through the catalog of the University of Iowa Press. I came across an intriguing title, Up a Country Lane Cookbook. Previewing it online, I decided to order it, and when the book arrived at my door, I couldn’t put it down. I still can’t to this day.

I love reading, cookbooks in particular. I know that sounds a bit odd, but I read cookbooks like a romance novel addict reads Harlequins. And the Up a Country Lane Cookbook was my Harlequin, yet it was so much more. Filled with stories about various aspects of life in rural Iowa during the 1940s and ‘50s (the chapters arranged as such, with titles like “Grocery Stores and Lockers”, “Haying”, and “Country Social Clubs”), this book tells the reader even more through the recipes of the folks who lived that life. The stories are so personal and woven together; you think they could be your own. At the least, you are certain that you are listening to your grandma tell you a cherished story from days gone by, illustrating for you an intimate portrait of your heritage.

Like a true addict, I had to read more. I went back to the catalog of the University of Iowa Press to find more by the same author. At the time, there was just one title, Neighboring on the Air: Cooking with the KMA Radio Homemakers. When I saw that title, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Another cookbook with Iowa history! This title, having been published two years prior, carried the same appeal and the ability to evoke similar warm-and-fuzzy emotions as its successor.

And the author of my two-title collection? None other than Evelyn Birkby.

This would not be my only encounter with the name Evelyn Birkby however, prior to meeting her that June morning. Months earlier in 2010, Iowa Public Television produced and aired a documentary, one in which those two books collided, called Iowa’s Radio Homemakers: Up a Country Lane. As one of those radio homemakers herself, Evelyn Birkby shared her stories of a simpler time, once again.

So when I heard that she would be giving a lecture, I had to be there to meet her in person. Of course, I brought my copies of her books to autograph. And I brought something else: my own cookbook.

A few years before, my sister and I embarked upon our own journey, one in which we would ultimately publish a family cookbook featuring the recipes of our late grandma to share with our entire extended family. While discussing style and format ideas, we opened Up a Country Lane Cookbook and found our inspiration. We began collecting, compiling, and arranging recipes, stories, and photographs from all of our family members, so we could begin to tell pieces of our family’s story, rich in its own Iowa history. With Evelyn’s book as our model, my sister and I had created a treasured keepsake our family could cherish.

To show Evelyn our appreciation, since we both attributed our vision for our cookbook to the inspiration we found in the pages of Evelyn’s book, and to thank her for helping us give such a special gift to our family, my sister and I wrote a letter explaining as such, and placed it inside a copy of our cookbook, which had just arrived from the printers weeks earlier. At the lecture I attended, I handed the cookbook to Evelyn. She seemed delighted, as she enjoys collecting family cookbooks. A short time later, Evelyn shared parts of our letter and featured our cookbook in her column. As always, she put in a recipe, this time for my Appleberry Pie.

(You can imagine my own delight to have been included in one of Evelyn Birkby’s “Up a Country Lane” columns!)

That lecture that day gave me so much more than a chance to thank Evelyn and share with her what she inspired my sister and me to create. It gave me the chance to seek the wisdom of an elder, for Evelyn is far wiser than even her now 93 years. One of the things that intrigues me about life back in the 1940s and ‘50s is how those rural women managed to “do it all”, with so fewer modern conveniences than we have now, while still spending the kind of time with their families from which special memories are made. I asked her about that aspect of life back then, and that’s when Evelyn shared with me her greatest advice. She told me that life is a choice, that every day we make a choice about what we are going to do with our time; that we will spend our time on what we value, so we should choose to do what is important.

Does anyone really need to know anything about how to live a life, more than that?

I have never forgotten the words Evelyn shared that day. And I’m still paying attention to the woman, who in her tenth decade of life, has so much insight into how a wonderful life is lived. I keep up with her by listening to KMA Radio out of Shenandoah, Iowa. (I stream it live online.) Evelyn still visits over the airwaves, sharing a recipe, just as she did all those years ago, now the third Tuesday of every month at approximately 9:18 a.m. (If I miss the live broadcast, I can still hear the recorded program by clicking the “Dean & Don” tab on KMA’s website.) I also keep up with Evelyn by reading her “Up a Country Lane” column in what is now The Valley News. She still includes a recipe, just as Mr. Archie told her she should.

And I still pull out her books, pondering the recipes and rereading the stories of a time I will never know.

History never gets old.

Here’s a poignant excerpt from Evelyn’s Up a Country Lane Cookbook (1993), from the Afterword:

During the years we lived on Cottonwood Farm, it sometimes seemed as though nothing would ever change. I would stand in the cool shadows beneath the cottonwood trees and drink in the beauty of Mill Valley, our fields, and the meandering creek. I was content in knowing that this farm, sheltering and nurturing the people I loved most, was at this moment our own. It was home…

…I can always see the long country lane that led to Cottonwood Farm. We had driven up it at the beginning of our farming adventure full of enthusiasm and hope. And we had made our way back down the lane when we left the farm for the last time. Despite the hard work and the setbacks, our years at Cottonwood Farm had made us so much wiser, so much stronger, and I hope, so much better for having been there. Best of all, they had filled each of us with a lifetime of wonderful memories of a time and a place and a way of life that will never come again.

Thank you, Evelyn, for sharing your memories, your words, and most importantly, your wisdom.

Yours in pie,

I have been eagerly awaiting, with great anticipation, the arrival of Evelyn Birkby’s latest book (her 11th), Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker. I ordered my copy months ago, and since the book was just released on September 15th, it has not yet arrived at my door. So to celebrate Evelyn’s newest book, this week’s pie on Sunday is one I chose from her Up a Country Lane Cookbook, Barbershop Gooseberry Pie. I had neither baked nor eaten a gooseberry pie until now, and I’ve always been intrigued, yet hesitant. I’ve been told by many that you really should use fresh gooseberries rather than those found in a commercial can; they can be mushy and the taste is nothing like those of fresh. Considering the extreme unlikelihood that I would find fresh gooseberries in the woods or in the store, I didn’t have much of a choice. But I figured it was a risk worth taking, and I was pleasantly surprised. While I do think fresh gooseberries would improve the quality of the texture and the taste, this pie was worth making. And what does the barbershop have to do with it? Herschel Whitehill was a local barber in Farragut, also in far southwestern Iowa, and as Evelyn notes, this was his favorite pie.
Can you see the gooseberries?
Barbershop Gooseberry Pie
*I have listed the directions for how I made the pie.

Pastry for a two-crust 9” pie

3 or 4 c. gooseberries (I used 2 15 oz. cans, drained)

1 c. (8 oz. can) crushed pineapple, undrained

Dash of salt

1 ½ c. sugar

3 T. cornstarch

1 T. butter


Sparkling sugar

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl. Pour over gooseberries and pineapple in a bowl and combine very gently. Spoon filling onto bottom crust, dot with butter, and cover with top crust. Cut tiny slits to allow steam to escape. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Cover edge of crust with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes, then lower oven temp. to 350° and bake for another 45-60 minutes, removing foil the last 15-20 minutes of baking, until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool completely on wire rack before slicing into pie.


Bonus: Mini Berry Pie

I do some of my best thinking in the shower.

It’s true. I have water bills to prove it.

And I did some of my best thinking this summer while watering outdoors (I have water bills to prove this, too)…..and watering, and watering, and watering the 192 impatiens, among other new plants, I decided to put in the beds in front of our house for some added color -- the same garden beds that have lain empty for the past six years. And this…..this is the year I decided to fill them.

We do have four rain barrels strategically positioned around the exterior of our house which collect rain water from the downspouts of the gutter system. I’m just as much a friend to water conservation as the next person. (Except, apparently not so much in the shower.) So is my husband. He built the rain barrels himself. But let me fill you in on a little secret:

Without rain, it’s kind of hard to store rain water..…in rain barrels..…which are used to conserve, you guessed it…water.

Do you see the irony?

(Speaking of irony, I know some of you are wondering…why 192 impatiens? As if anyone needs that many flowers in one garden bed. Well, I get it from my dad. If you don’t believe me, you can read about our tomato problem.)
This is what 192 impatiens gets you.....

So on top of taking showers and watering plants, I also do some of my best thinking in the kitchen while washing dishes.


There seems to be a theme here.

All this talk about water is making me want to go potty. Uh, I mean use the restroom…

And this is what happens when you’ve stayed at home with small children for over six years like I have.

You’re exhausted, you think (and talk) like a small child, and you never have time alone. Unless you’re in the shower, and even then you don’t always have privacy. Ah, the joys of motherhood.

Then, there are the real joys of motherhood. Like each time you play sous-chef to your children’s head chefs in the kitchen, especially when they want to make a pie. That’s what we did when I finished making the Apple-Barb Berry Pie for this past Sunday. And I had so much fun!

Now, it’s no secret in my family that I don’t really enjoy sharing my kitchen. Not that my kids never get to help in the kitchen; they do. I just like my space. And order. And cleanliness. (These are concepts not generally synonymous with small children. Or husbands, for that matter.) But when my four-year-old daughter asks me in a sweet little voice if she can help make a pie (a sweet little voice which is also not normally synonymous with my four-year-old daughter), what’s a type-A-personality mom to do?

While she and my six-and-five-sixths-year-old son (he understands fractions and likes to be exact) each rolled out a crust from the dough scraps I had left from my pie, I scrounged through the freezer looking for fruit to fill their pie. (This was spur of the moment, and I’m a planner, but the spontaneity of it all was so freeing!) After a little math work by my son on how much of each fruit we needed since this was a little mini-pie (we guesstimated about one-fourth the size of a full-size pie), the kids took turns lining the little foil tart pan with the bottom crust, measuring and mixing the filling ingredients, and adjusting the top crust. Not ones to forego an art lesson (I as their student), the kids used teeny-tiny cutters and applied whimsical shapes, with the top crust as their canvas and water as their glue.

 And I think it’s the most beautiful pie I’ve ever seen…

My sweet-as-pie-when-she-wants-to-be daughter, so proud of her pie!
My highly-possessed son, who can't wait for the first bite! Notice the gaping hole where a tooth used to be? The tooth to the left is almost ready to drop, too. But all he wants for Christmas is.....a scooter. He could care less about his two front teeth. Besides, he finally has a chance at learning how to whistle. And he can make a little more room for pie!
Two happy kids, one flour-dusted kitchen, and a berry pie later, I headed off to take a shower -- to think.

Yours in pie,

This was our first mini pie, and it was delicious! The kids especially loved it because it was theirs, and it was just right for them as a pint-size pie. We threw this together without following any recipe, and while it was tasty, the consistency was just a little thin. I’ve listed the measurements we used, but I would adjust for next time and increase the cornstarch and tapioca measurements to ¾ tsp. each.

Mini Berry Pie

Pastry scraps (or enough dough for a two-crust 4 ½-inch tart-size pie)

1/3 c. frozen blueberries, partially thawed

1/3 c. frozen red raspberries, partially thawed

1/3 c. frozen blackberries, partially thawed

¼ c. sugar

½ tsp. cornstarch

½ tsp. tapioca

Dash cinnamon

1 tsp. butter

Combine pastry scraps and roll out dough into two circles. Line the bottom of tart pan with one pastry dough circle. Combine sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour over berries in a bowl and combine gently. Spoon the filling onto the bottom crust and dot the top of the filling with the butter. Lay the top crust on the filling. Trim and crimp edges. With trimmed-off pastry scraps, use mini-cutters to cut decorative shapes, dot bottom side of shapes with water, and apply to crust. Cut slits in top of pie to allow steam to escape. Bake on the middle rack in the oven at 350° for 1 hour, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing into pie.



Farmers Feed Us Pie: Apple-Barb Berry Pie

Farmers helped me make this pie.

A lot of farmers.

They help me make all my pies.

Well, sort of…

(Can’t you just imagine about eight or nine farmers in their iconic seed corn caps, standing in my kitchen, pastry blenders and rolling pins in hand?)

No, farmers didn’t exactly assist in the making of the pie, but they did perform all the initial steps. And I’m glad they did, because if I had to do all they did on top of making dough and rolling it out, combining (no pun intended) fruits and thickeners for the filling, and baking the pie, I think I wouldn’t make any pie at all. Ever.

The flour for my pie crust was ground from wheat that some farmer grew, probably in the Dakotas or Montana. Maybe even Kansas. (Maybe even by the Peterson brothers while they sang “I’m Farming and I Grow It…”) Another farmer, likely here in Iowa, raised the hogs, parts of which were eventually rendered into the lard I used for the fat in my pie crust. More farmers grew the fruit, including berries, apples, and even rhubarb, that make up the basis of my pie filling. Even the corn starch I used to thicken the filling is an end-stage product of some farmer who grew, you guessed it…corn. And the tapioca? It came from the cassava plant, likely harvested by some farmer in South America. (I think. I don’t know much about tapioca and cassava plants, so if someone cares to enlighten me, I’d much rather claim that my tapioca arrived via a farmer here in the U.S.)

I’m bringing this up because this week’s pie on Sunday was originally inspired by a recipe in Iowa Farmer Today. How do I know? Because I read Iowa Farmer Today. I even have a paid subscription. I’m not a farmer myself, but I know how important farmers are to us all. All farmers. Whether they grow corn that becomes ethanol or soybeans that become, well, anything soy, like soy milk, vegetable oil, or renamed as edamame. Farmers who grow crops conventionally or those who follow organic methods. Farmers who raise cattle for beef or sheep for wool. Dairy farmers who sell their milk to processors, or those who use their milk to craft specialty cheeses. Large-scale farmers with thousands of acres of farm land, or small-scale niche farmers who raise things like aronia berries or operate CSA’s or u-pick farms. Farmers whose land has been in their families for generations, or rookie farmers who are getting their start with the guidance of some good-hearted veteran farmers. And I’m leaving out more descriptions of farmers and farm products than I’m including in this list.

The point is, there are a lot of farmers, and we need them all. Our sources for food, fiber, and fuel really do depend on them.

So I pay attention. I read Iowa Farmer Today. (Along with the Farm Cooks feature, I especially enjoy reading the advice column "Farm and Ranch Life", now written by Dr. Mike Rosmann, which was previously the "Family Life" column by Dr. Val Farmer. Coincidence?) On occasion, I browse through Successful Farming Magazine at the library. (Mostly, I like the family feature with recipes and news for the home. The rest is usually a little too technical for me.) When visiting my dad, I like to thumb through his copies of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as well as Farm and Ranch Living Magazine. Over lunch on weekdays, I tune in to "The Big Show" on WHO Radio. (My favorite segment is on Fridays at about 12:45 with Lee Kline. I've been listening to his stories since I was a kid.) I also follow the stories of bloggers whose families farm, like Emily Webel of Confessions of a Farm Wife, and Sara Ross of Sara’s House HD. And I gain a greater appreciation for where my food, fiber, and fuel begin their journey.

But I’m not a complete stranger to farming and the world of agriculture. Are any of us really? I bet there are fewer degrees of separation with farmers, for most of us, than there are with Kevin Bacon.

My roots, as well as those of my husband, begin in farming. My grandparents on both sides farmed; they grew crops and ran a dairy. Several members of my extended family, including aunts, uncles, and cousins, all farm. The same can be said for my husband’s family. I did not grow up on a farm myself, my own parents were not farmers, though my dad did some custom farming when I was young. He also worked at a grain elevator much of his adult life. A few years ago, my mom retired from John Deere. During part of her time there, she worked for their cotton division. That division manufactured cotton pickers and strippers. Here in Iowa. Where we grow corn and beans.

A little ironic.

For five summers of our teenage lives, my sister and I detasseled seed corn. By hand. Every year, we worked with a handful of others (our mom and aunt included) on a small crew. We contracted acres from a local seed corn company, which was owned by my mom’s cousin and started by my great uncle. When you grow up in a small rural Iowa town, in a place where you look out over a bean field from the front yard and a corn field from the back and can still say you are living in town, detasseling corn is what you do every summer. Back then, it was a teenager’s rite of passage.

And for my husband? The guy who laughs and jokingly asks me what price cotton is up to every Friday night while I watch “Market to Market” on our local PBS station? He grew up on a farm himself, and his parents and brother are still farming today. My husband also now works for one of the largest, leading seed and crop protection companies in the world.

And yet, he laughs.
Again, a little ironic, don’t you think?

(By the way, cotton was at $75.72 last week after a loss of $1.54 per hundredweight.)

While I’m no expert on agriculture and farming, I pay attention. Because it’s important. Just as the sign above the Machine Shed Restaurant at Living History Farms reads, “Farming is everyone’s bread and butter.” Whether it gives you money in your bank account, food on your table, fuel in your car, or clothes on your back, farming affects so many facets of life.

And that includes pie.

Farmers help me make my pies. And I’m so grateful they do. I couldn’t do it all by myself.
Yours in pie,

The recipe for this pie was inspired by a recipe for Four-Fruit Pie, orignially printed in the Farm Cooks feature of Iowa Farmer Today on April 21, 2012. The recipe was shared by Alice Buman of Harlan, IA, though I made a few changes. I like to use corn starch and tapioca for berry pies. The first time I made this pie, I used 2 T. corn starch and 1 T. tapioca, and also increased the amount of sugar to 1 1/4 c. The pie was very sweet and a little more thick than I like. So this time, I decreased the sugar a little, and also decreased the cornstarch. I think it came out just right -- not too sweet, with perfect "ooze", and I could taste each fruit. A perfect marriage of Spring (rhubarb), Summer (berries), and Fall (apples)...in a pie.

Apple-Barb Berry Pie

Pastry for a two-crust 9" pie

1 c. diced rhubarb

1 c. apple, peeled, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 c. blackberries

1 c. red raspberries
1 c. + 2 T. sugar

1 T. cornstarch

1 T. quick-cooking tapioca

Dash of cinnamon

2 T. butter

Combine sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour over fruit in a bowl and combine gently. Set aside while you roll out the pie crust and place in pie plate. Spoon filling onto bottom crust and dot the top of the filling with small pieces of the butter. Roll out and lay the top crust on the filling. Trim and crimp edges. Cut slits in top of pie to allow steam to escape. Cover the edge of the crust with foil. Bake on the middle rack in the oven at 350° for 60-75 minutes, removing foil the last 15-20 minutes of baking. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing into pie.

A few notes: If using store-bought frozen rhubarb, be sure to defrost it most of the way, and then cut it into smaller pieces (about 1/2-inch). If using frozen berries, only partially thaw them first. Also, I typically brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle it with sparkling sugar, but I was out of milk. Maybe if I had my own cow that wouldn't be a problem...


A Tomato Problem, and Tomato Basil Pie

In my most recent (and first ever) Pie on Sunday post, I began with saying that I love pie.

I love something else almost as much.


I love basil.

Fresh, sweet basil.

And because of basil, among other things, I’m already breaking with tradition a little this week. Usually when I think of pie, especially pie on Sunday, I first imagine a sweet fruit filling between two flaky layers.

But this week, I had a few reasons to take a brief detour. My family and I traveled to Minnesota for a wedding and a family reunion on my husband’s side. It was requested that the cousins (that includes us) bring an appetizer to share before the main meal at the reunion.

What to bring, what to bring…

While contemplating this very dilemma, I had glanced over at the two boxes of tomatoes resting on my kitchen counter. A beautiful array of blemish-free tomatoes, perfectly round and red, a small variety called “4th of July”, seemed to sit up a little more straight with their crunchy dry stems perking up as I stared deep in thought. I’d already canned a batch of salsa as well as a few pints of larger tomatoes to have on hand over the winter. What could I use these little beauties for?

The dilemma wasn’t so much what to make, but more so what could I do to use them up. You see, this is the dilemma every year late in the summer, when my dad delivers (several times) a plethora of pretty tomatoes.  He does this because he has the same tomato problem every year.

He plants way too many tomato plants. This year, the most ever: 54.

Yes. You read that correctly.



Not 54 tomatoes (which would probably be a just-right yield in itself), but 54 tomato plants.

If a person’s sanity could be measured by tomatoes alone, I think my dad could be certifiable.

And it isn’t just the tomatoes. He goes crazy with just about his entire garden, which by the way, is large enough to feed the entire Duggar family. All 21 of them (by my last count). Really.

His usual potato planting practices alone result in anywhere from over 200 to more than 350 hills of potatoes in the ground, depending on the year. And imagine the number of potatoes each hill yields. While he doesn’t go quite so crazy with other vegetables, he does plant many different types, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, kohlrabi, rutabaga, carrots, onions, beans, cucumbers, summer and winter squashes, all kinds of peppers, zucchini, kale, and more. And there are usually several varieties of each. Which is why I think my dad ends up with so many tomato plants: He can’t bear to plant just one of each variety. It’s his insurance policy that every variety will survive to harvest, no matter the circumstances.

And every year, it ultimately becomes my tomato problem.

Which brings us back to pie. And basil.

Since I would be making a pie for Sunday anyway, and I needed an appetizer for the reunion, and I had all those tomatoes, I knew just what to do.

I would make Tomato Basil Pie, and kill three birds with one stone. (I wonder if those birds they refer to are pie birds. You know, the ceramic kind that are placed in the middle of the pie to vent and allow steam to escape? Seems a little more than a coincidence, don’t you think?)

An irresistible combination of cheeses layered with diced fresh tomatoes and fragrant ribbons of slivered fresh basil leaves atop a prebaked crust and baked again until it all becomes a melted bliss, this pie can’t be beat. It’s the perfect answer to a hot cheesy dip, yet instead of any dipping, the crust plays the part of built-in crackers, and you can eat it with a fork.

Since my pie crust recipe makes enough dough for a two-crust pie, and a tomato basil pie needs just one crust, I decided to go ahead and make two pies. And I’m glad I did, because I went home from the reunion with two empty pie plates.

So if you’re looking for a solution to the problem of too many tomatoes, make Tomato Basil Pie -- on Sunday, or any day of the week.

Yours in pie,


This recipe for Tomato Basil Pie comes from The Ivy Bake Shoppe Cookbook, by Martha Wolf. The Ivy BakeShoppe and Café is located in historic downtown Fort Madison, which is along the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa. I’ve never been to The Ivy, but it’s on my list of places to visit, and I can’t wait for the day, because I’ve heard that their breakfast pastries, coffee bar, and lunch items are simply irresistible. No customer leaves The Ivy disappointed. And you won’t be disappointed with this Tomato Basil Pie.

Tomato Basil Pie

1 baked 9-inch pie crust
1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

*3 medium-size tomatoes, diced and drained

1 c. fresh basil leaves, loosely measured, then slivered

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ c. mayonnaise

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

¼ c. shredded Parmesan cheese

Put ¾ c. of the mozzarella cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Cover cheese with tomatoes and then layer on basil. In a bowl, combine garlic, mayonnaise, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and remaining ¾ c. mozzarella cheese, and mix well. Spread carefully on top of basil layer. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Makes 8 servings.

*For this pie, I used about 9 of the small “4th of July” tomatoes, which are the size of a large cherry tomato. They were rather juicy, so I made sure to drain them very well. You could use a Roma-type tomato, they have less juice, but still drain them. You don’t want any excess liquid to ruin your cheesy basil bliss.