My garden is starting to come in with the first harvest of the season. Rhubarb, radishes and spinach are the things I am most excited to be eating fresh. I have discovered a wealth of information from Cook’s Illustrated. They look at the science of why and how things work in cooking. Even though I am an adult, I like to ask, “Why?”
    I have stayed away from baking rhubarb pies because they are always so runny or too gooey when you over use thickeners. Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2015 article discovered a few tricks to make a rhubarb/strawberry pie that could hold its shape and taste great. I have already made a couple of these pies with fresh rhubarb and frozen strawberries. Their tips work wonderfully. I also had to make some adjustments because I was using frozen and not fresh strawberries. The key is pulling the moisture out of the rhubarb and strawberries. Sugar will pull the water out of the rhubarb while holding its shape but takes way too long unless you microwave it. Once you have the juice drained off of the fruit, then you need to cook it down. This keeps the full flavor of the fruits while helping to hold the filling together when you cut into the pie.

Strawberry rhubarb pie
Double pie crust, store-bought or homemade
1-2 tablespoons butter, cubed
Sugar
Filling
7 cups chopped rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar
3-4 cups strawberries, halved or quartered depending on size (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons instant tapioca
    Combine rhubarb and sugar in bowl and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir and continue to microwave until sugar is mostly dissolved, about 1 minute longer. Stir in 1 cup strawberries and set aside for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
    Drain rhubarb mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over a large saucepan. Return drained rhubarb mixture to bowl and set aside. Add remaining strawberries to rhubarb liquid and cook over medium-high heat until strawberries are soft and mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 10-15 minutes. Mash berries, doesn’t have to be smooth. Add strawberry mixture and tapioca to drained rhubarb mixture and stir to combine. Pour into pie shell and dot with butter. Seal and cut vents in the top. Place in a 425-degree oven with a lined baking sheet to catch the drippings. Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the pie and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 30-40 minutes longer. Let cool on wire rack for 2 1/2 hours before serving.
    Tips and changes: When using frozen strawberries, thaw them out and save the juice. Add 1 cup of berries to rhubarb as instructed. After 30 minutes, drain off liquid from rhubarb mixture and thawed strawberries. Cook liquids down to 1 1/2 cups over medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes. Add remaining thawed berries and mash. While the liquids are cooking down, I add the tapioca to the rhubarb/strawberry mixture to start softening it up. Add strawberries, juice and rhubarb together. Pour into prepared pie shell. Dot filling with butter to help prevent it from bubbling over. Place top crust over filling and seal. Southern cooks wash off their pies by placing them under the faucet to rinse them off. Instead, I brush on water till the crust becomes very moist. Then sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons sugar on the crust. The water dissolves the sugar and helps to seal it to the crust. When you pull the pie out of the oven, it has a beautiful glossy look.
    I found this recipe in the Simply in Season cookbook. I enjoy spinach quiche, and this combination intrigued me. As long as you can make the egg mixture, the rest is whatever you have on hand in the refrigerator. I have used leftover hamburgers for the bacon. I use any kind of cheese I have on hand. Shredded marble jack is my go-to, but pepper jack adds a bit of kick. The crust may take the longest to prepare, but there are options if you do not want to roll out a pie crust. Try a shredded potato or hash brown crust. Wonderful served warm or as a cold slice for lunch.

Spring quiche trio from Simply in Season
3 eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Beat together and set aside.
9-inch pie crust or potato pie crust
    (3 cups shredded raw potatoes or shredded frozen hash browns, 3 tablespoons oil. Mix together. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake in preheated oven at 425 degrees until just starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add filling and bake as directed.)
Filling:
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup broccoli, chopped
2 cups spinach, chopped or frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 cup bacon bits
    Sauté onions and broccoli together in a greased fry pan for 5-10 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Place bacon bits and cheese on bottom of prepared crust. Top with vegetable mixture. Pour in egg-milk mixture. Top with extra cheese. Bake in preheated oven at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until browned on top and set in the middle, about another 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.
     Well, if we are going to be making all these pies, I better share my pie crust recipe. I found this in my hometown cook book years ago.

Pie crust (Vera White, Stronghurst cookbook)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup Crisco
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
    Mix milk and vinegar together and put in refrigerator until ready to use it. Mix flour, salt and sugar together. Cut Crisco in flour. Cut in butter until all flour is incorporated. Pour cold milk mixture over and mix together with a fork. Mold into two balls. Roll out between two sheets of floured wax paper. Once you have it rolled out, remove the top sheet of wax paper. Slip your hand under the bottom sheet and lift pie crust and flip into pie plate. Carefully remove wax paper and settle crust into the pie plate with a little bit hanging over the edge. Roll out remaining ball of dough as before. Place over filling and press around the inside edge of the pie plate. Roll dough under and tuck inside pie plate. Crimp together. Cut slits on top to allow steam to escape. Brush water on top of crust and sprinkle sugar on top.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.