Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Pie of Unemployment

This spring has brought about many endings, including school and my former place of employment, which closed its doors after being a local go-to spot for over sixteen years. Getting a job in this town is no joke and the journey of trying to find one is enough to merit it’s own pie recipe. The trip has been tumultuous so I chose to explore what it tastes like to be unemployed. The cacophony of feelings I went through daily were nervousness, scared and a little excited to have more time to play. This bittersweet combination embodied for me the taste of a fresh rhubarb pie. I picked up some rhubarb at the Portland Farmer's market from a local farmer. It was fresh and some of the best I have had.

Rhubarb is a root, and grows quite nicely in the local climate of the Pacific Northwest. Historically, rhubarb was used for medicinal purposes but its leaves can be poisonous when ingested. In ancient china, rhubarb was used for both healing and as a deadly poison.

Rhubarb on it’s own has that acidic taste that makes your mouth pucker and you feel it in the back of your throat. It is a lingering taste as well as a memorable one. The way the flavor gives a physical reaction due to the potency of its distinct taste and then lingers on your palate reminded me of how feeling nervous can not only linger but pose it’s own physical issues as well. I also thought it interesting the duality of Rhubarb's use as a medicine and a poison. The scare factor is certainly there, but it is also an interesting parallel to the duality of feelings as well. Feelings, like medicine, can put you on the path to health, spur you on to healthier ways of approaching life, and help find the insight necessary to cure yourself. On the other hand, feelings when ignored, disregarded, or taken in overwhelming doses, can act as a poison.

Bittersweet, poisonous, and medicinal, Rhubarb embodies all the components and feelings for me of being unemployed. Excited that I have more time for my own projects, scared that I won’t be able to pay rent, and a healthy nervousness that spurs me on to stay in the job game culminated into the taste of a Rhubarb pie.

The Pie of Unemployment (Rhubarb) Recipe
  • 1 3/4 pounds (about 6 cups) rhubarb, ends trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • deep dish pie crust (sorry guys, this recipe is mine)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. with rack in lowest level. In a large bowl, toss rhubarb with sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Pour into pie shell; sprinkle with Crumble Topping. Place pie on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Place pie in oven; reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake until topping is browned and crust is lightly browned, about 1 1/2 hours. (If topping or crust begins to brown too quickly, tent with foil.) Cool completely before serving.

Crumble Topping
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
In a medium bowl, mix flour, light-brown sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. With your hands, work in butter until large, moist clumps form. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

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