Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Remembering Rosie's and Rhubarb

I really, really like rhubarb and whenever I'm cooking with it I always think of Rosie's Cafe. The first few years Roy and I were married, we lived 55 miles away from where I worked full-time and he worked part-time while going to school full-time. It was a good hour's drive one way. Occasionally on our way home at night, we would treat ourselves and stop at Rosie's Cafe for a quick dinner. The small restaurant was owned and run by three sisters. Rosie was the waitress and the other two sisters worked in the kitchen. This was in the early '60s and all the food was made from scratch and good. There was a printed menu but there was always an "evening special" utilizing fresh produce and meat that was available in the local farming community. Eating at Rosie's was a great experience. I often dream of going back there, but the sisters would all be 100+ years old now . . . and probably not doing much cooking.

Now, pie has always been my very favorite dessert. As a new cook, I had heard that making good pie crust was a real art so was a little gun-shy about trying it. Instead, I purchased packages of Betty Crocker's "pie sticks" (they looked just like quarter pounds of butter) which you rolled out and, ta-da, there was your pie crust. One day Roy said very kindly, "Hon, until you have time to learn how to make pie crust, why don't we just skip the pies." Well. I could take a hint. No pies went in and out of my oven for some time.

Back to Rosie's. Each spring, Rhubarb Pie was sure to be offered. Outside of the fact that Rhubarb Pie is close to being my very favorite kind of pie, Rosie's crust was wonderful; flaky, tender, melted in your mouth. So one night after polishing off a piece of delectable Rhubarb Pie, I asked Rosie what the secret was to making such great pie crust. She replied that I would have to ask her sister as she was the pie baker. One of the sisters came out of the kitchen to chat with us. Cleverly avoiding revealing her own crust recipe ingredients, she did say that I had to remember two things. The first was to use ice water when mixing the flour and shortening. The second was to always make the pie crusts and then let them rest in the refrigerator overnight before rolling them out and making the pies.

So back to the drawing board I went and eventually came up with a good crust recipe. Matter of fact, my career in the restaurant business started with going to a friend's restaurant at 4:30 in the morning and baking pies. And, yes, I made lots and lots of rhubarb pies. One year after I had my own restaurant, Roy and I contracted with a lady living somewhat south of us who had long rows of luxuriant rhubarb plants. We bought over 100 pounds of rhubarb, processed and froze it so I could make rhubarb pies throughout the year.

Recently I found a cookbook that was obviously written for rhubarb lovers. Recipes using rhubarb to make everything from beverages to jams to salads to desserts. What fun I'm having working my way through it. If the old wives' tale about rhubarb being a cleansing, spring tonic is true, boy, are we in good shape.

My rhubarb plant currently looks a trifle lopsided, and possibly a little over-picked, so I should try to refrain from any rhubarb concoctions for a week or so. But I can still go bake some other kind of pie. I like to think Rosie and her sisters would be proud.

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