Chef’s South: Sara Foster

How Chef Sara Foster keeps her memories alive with home-baked pies.

Courtesy of Jamie West

MY LOVE FOR FOOD BEGAN LONG AGO on a small farm in Tennessee. It was my grandparents’ land and at the very center was Granny Foster’s kitchen, where there was always something cooking on the stove or baking in the oven.

I’d spend hours sitting at the counter watching her careful hands slice freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, and transform them into flavorful suppers. We ate what we grew and almost every meal ended with a sweet treat, whether it was a simple berry-topped biscuit or a warm, bubbling pie hot from the oven—my unrivaled favorite.

In my family, pies were a rite of passage. Everyone made them, and no one ever used a recipe. They blended butter and flour until it felt right and made sweet fillings, always tasting as they went. I would help roll out the dough and wait patiently for my grandmother to hand me the scraps so I could cut out shapes and bake them into delicate, sugary confections.

My mother and sister’s favorite was chess pie, while my father and I shared a love for chocolate meringue. But every spring when the strawberries in my grandparents’ patch ripened, we were let out of school to go pick them. Later that day, we’d gather in the kitchen and bake them into some of the freshest, juiciest pies and cobblers I’ve ever tasted—sometimes just strawberry, and other times combined with tart rhubarb or creamy custard. They were simple but delicious—just how pie is supposed to be.

After finishing culinary school in New York, I began working in restaurants throughout the city and quickly discovered my preference for grills and skillets. I liked the focus on seasonality that came with savory cooking, and enjoyed experimenting with contrasting flavors and textures. But that didn’t mean I ever shied away from baking.

Any chance I got, I was the first to volunteer to bake pies, sometimes pumping out a hundred at a time. I knew that even if they weren’t perfect, they would still be delicious. Even better, each crust I rolled and filling I dreamed up brought me back to those cherished days in Granny Foster’s kitchen.

Now, every year when the North Carolina winter chill starts to recede, I search market shelves for the first signs of spring. Whether it’s a bundle of rhubarb or a carton of strawberries, I know warmer weather is coming and so are the fresh fruit pies I so often crave.

Uncomplicated yet exceptionally special, this Straight-Up Rhubarb Pie is a twist on the springtime pies I grew up eating, and it never fails to transport me back to yesteryear with each sweet and tangy bite.

Straight-Up Rhubarb Pie
Courtesy of:
  • ½ (14.1-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts or 1 Pâte Brisée Piecrust (recipe follows), parbaked (see Kitchen Tip)
  • 1½ pounds sliced rhubarb (about 4–5 cups), cleaned and trimmed
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Place piecrust on a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, cornstarch, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ginger, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss to mix. Add lemon juice and zest; stir to mix. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, oats, remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon, allspice, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt; toss to mix. Work butter into the oat mixture with the tips of your fingers until it is combined and begins to clump together.
  4. Stir rhubarb mixture again and pour into the prepared piecrust. Pile crumb mixture on top of the filling to cover, pressing gently to adhere. Place pie on baking sheet on the center rack in the oven.
  5. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges. If the edges or top are browning too quickly, cover the pie loosely with foil. Remove from the oven and cool about 2 hours before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
KITCHEN TIP - To prevent a soggy bottom pie, parbake your crust. Fill pie tin with rolled dough and crimp edges as desired. Top with parchment, fill with pie weights, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Remove parchment, brush crust with beaten egg white, and let cool. You can also sprinkle the bottom crust with crushed shortbread cookie crumbs to absorb some of the liquid.

Pâte Brisée Piecrust
Courtesy of:
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your hands and work surface
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ⅓-½ cup ice water
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a handheld pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea- to almond-size pieces of butter and a few larger chunks. It is important to work quickly to make this dough so that the butter remains cold.
  2. Pour ⅓ cup of water around the outside edges of the flour mixture and blend with a fork until the dough start to come together. Do not over mix. If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together.
  3. Lightly dust your hands and work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and press it together. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a flat, round disk. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
  4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too hard, let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rolling. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough to form a 12-inch circle about ⅛ inch thick. Brush off any excess flour after rolling. Fold the dough in half or gently roll it up onto the rolling pin and lift to place in a 9-inch pie pan. Press the dough lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  5. Trim the edges of the dough with a pair of kitchen shears, leaving about ½ inch of dough draping over the side. Turn the extra dough under itself. Crimp the edge of the pie or flatten it with the tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for at least 1 hour before baking. Repeat with the other piece of dough. At this point the crust can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.



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