Baking comes as easy as pie for Melody Calovich. Calovich, who has been married to Jerry for 36 years, says it’s music to her ears when friends and members of her family — four children and eight grandchildren — ask to bake with her in her Overland Park kitchen.
Q: You epitomize the adage “Nice as pie.”
A: I don’t know what it is, but who doesn’t appreciate a piece of homemade pie? It just gives me so much pleasure to create and bake pies. Making a pie takes time, and a large part of that is getting the crust right. The secret to a good crust is to handle it as little as possible. This strawberry-rhubarb pie is a favorite, and you can use frozen fruit that has been defrosted if you don’t have fresh.
Pie doesn’t have to be perfect and is just meant to be shared. Because so few make homemade pies today, people really do appreciate the effort that goes into that little slice of love.
Q: Why pie?
A: A pie is just magic. I can’t explain it. And let me just say, if you don’t like pie, I’m not sure we can be friends. I like making pies because the ingredients you can put into crusts are endless. Fruit pies. Cream pies. Chiffon pies. Custard pies. Savory pies. For me, making pie is crust-contained creativity.
I also like baking bread, because I enjoy the aromas and like the process of working the dough with my hands. I enjoy watching the bread rise and the satisfaction when the loaves come out of the oven. If the bread doesn’t turn out quite right — or gets hard because we don’t eat it fast enough — I make crostini out of it, which is my grandson’s favorite thing.
Q: Speaking of children and grandchildren: Do you have advice for families who want to cook with little ones?
A: I say: Let the flour fly! Don’t focus on the mess, revel in the fun. I remember one time my grandchildren wanted to make snickerdoodle cookies for their parents. There was cinnamon-sugar all over the floor, but life is messy, then we clean it up. I think the more children help cook, the more likely they are to eat it. You can think of cooking with children as an edible craft project or science experiment.
Q: Is that why you enjoy baking so much?
A: Baking is more chemistry than cooking. But it really comes down to alchemy: to convert basic ingredients — flour, water, yeast, salt and sugar — into gold. Baking is a miracle of chemical reactions that yields a delicious elixir of life.
I stayed at home raising my children, and when they were in school I took classes in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College. There I learned the science behind delicious food — how to make stocks, sauces, pastries — and I gained the confidence that I can make anything. That is the lesson I want to impart to my grandchildren — that they can make food that is shared to feed people you love. That is the greatest feeling ever.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Makes 1 (10-inch) deep-dish pie, 10 servings
For the crust:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter-flavored solid vegetable shortening, cut into tablespoons
6-8 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground fine
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 cups cleaned and diced rhubarb
4 cups cleaned, hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoons
For the topping:
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons raw or sanding sugar
To prepare crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour and salt together until combined. Evenly place shortening pieces on top of flour mixture and pulse until mixture becomes the size of large peas, or about 10 pulses.
Sprinkle ice water over top of mixture, 2 tablespoons at a time, and pulse 3 to 5 times. Keep adding water and pulsing until mixture just comes together to form a dough.
Divide dough evenly in half. Turn each piece of dough onto its own sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a 5-inch disc. Wrap each disc of dough tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
To prepare filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk sugar, tapioca and salt together. Stir in rhubarb and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Gently stir in strawberries and nutmeg and set aside.
Roll out 1 disc of dough on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until it becomes a circle about 13 inches in diameter. Gently wrap pastry around rolling pin and unroll it into a glass or ceramic 10-inch pie pan. Without stretching or making holes in the dough, ease pastry into pan. Allow pastry to spill over the sides of pie pan and prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.
Pour strawberry-rhubarb mixture into prepared crust in pie pan. Evenly place pieces of butter on top of filling and set aside.
Roll out second disc of dough on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until it becomes a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Gently place pastry on top of pie pan and seal with bottom crust by making a fluted edge. Cut at least 2 vents into top crust, and using a pastry brush, top with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Place a baking sheet lined with foil under pie to catch any drips. Bake for 60 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is hot and bubbling up. If crust becomes too brown in oven, tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil and continue baking until done.
Cool completely before cutting.
Per serving: 604 calories (38 percent from fat), 26 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 13 milligrams cholesterol, 90 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 292 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.