Lately, I’ve been scanning my parents’ photo albums into the computer to preserve the pictures and to keep a copy for ourselves. The books are large and unwieldy as I balance them on the old scanner with one hand while pressing the appropriate series of commands with the other.
There are a lot of pictures.
I’m not done with even a quarter of the albums, but I’m slowly making my way through. Pictures of varying sizes, shades, and grain quality are packed into the books and it isn’t a surprise if a few fall out as I juggle them.
The image captures a moment, but for someone who was too young to remember, many of the moments are blanks – only recognizable if they are holiday or birthday snaps. I vaguely remember the people in the photos and for many of them, even if I do know them, I doubt they’re the same now as they were then.
I love looking at the old family photos, though. Everyone is wearing 70s or 80s clothing and the hair to match. Even though I can clearly imagine the type of birthday or Easter dinner happening in the shot (nothing changes in my family), I feel as if the time-lapse has made the event “special”. People are caught laughing and pointing at something that no one remembers anymore. I’d love to go back to that time and find out what’s being said, because we don’t really laugh like we used to at get-togethers. Everyone is polite, but there have been fewer and fewer convulsive moments of laughter.
In one shot, my great grandmother is caught smiling radiantly off camera. Her bright white hair sits atop her head, just like I remember seeing it styled when we used to visit her. As a very young child, those visits were always a mixture of dread and fun.
We would play ping pong in her basement and pretend there were ghosts hiding in the dark corners as we chased after the balls. My cousins would raid her candy jar (always filled again at the next visit), and I would sit precariously on her old rocker. When it was time to leave, I would always scrunch up my face in childish disgust as she’d give me a big wet kiss on the cheek. Never once did she take offense and instead laughed and smiled and told me that she couldn’t wait to see me the next time. This would happen without fail until her progressed Alzheimer’s took it away.
And her smile.
My parents bought the house once she died and they remodeled it a bit, but it still has the garish pink and black tiles with blue tub in the bathroom, a few pieces of her furniture in the bedrooms, and the large rhubarb at the side of the house.
She was well known for her canning and pie making. Having lived through the depression, canning came second nature and she was doing it all the way up to the point until she couldn’t anymore. In fact, it was the proverbial straw meet camel’s back in her stages through Alzheimer’s. After she burned herself in the middle of canning and it was deemed that she couldn’t live alone anymore, she was never the same.
I’m not certain whether the rhubarb growing at my parents’ house is the same one, but it doesn’t matter. It’s in the same spot and therefore the same one in my mind. Delicious rhubarb pies, crumbles and jams came out of the plant every year and I developed my taste for tartness from it. My mother had given me a big bag of freshly cut rhubarb to use last summer, but the timing was never right. I wanted to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, because it combines two of my favorite flavors, but there were other desserts to make. Other things to eat. If only the freezer could freeze more than just food.
I had the opportunity last week when the bright red berries went on sale and we didn’t have any other desserts to get in the way. I made it using a combination of recipes to achieve the flavor, consistency and just rightness I was remembering.
The pie was like a memory explosion on the tongue. Even though it wasn’t her recipe, the fact that I will always associate rhubarb with her and only eat the rhubarb that comes from that plant meant that each bite was filled with a smile, a pair of bright eyes and a soft feeling. There’s a lot of pain wrapped up in the memory of my great grandmother, too, (Alzheimer’s saw to that) but like the tartness from the rhubarb, it’s a part of her, and her overall joy at being with us and being our great grandmother blends with that tart feeling to become one of happiness every time.
The following pie recipe is a product of two recipes and two different cookbooks. I didn’t want a double crust pie, so I looked up a great crumble recipe in my William’s Sonoma Baking book and used the filling from my Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking cookbook. The result was absolutely delicious with a dollop of whip on top. Hubby and I both agreed that it was the perfect pairing of flavor and texture.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
1 pie crust (I used Trader Joe’s pie crust since I don’t like making pie crust and we love the flavor of the TJ one)
- 3 cups rhubarb, diced (mine were frozen)
- 3 cups strawberries, diced
- Sugar or splenda to taste (the original recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, but I added a couple tablespoons of Splenda with no problems)
- ¼ cup cornstarch (I used potato starch mixed with a little water)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar (or 3 tablespoons Brown Sugar Splenda)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2-3 dashes of ground ginger
- ½ cup butter, melted (I used Country Crock)
- Form crust in pie pan and set aside.
- Mix crumble ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
- Mix filling ingredients except for the starch in a pan and bring just to a boil. Stir in starch and take off heat as it gels together. Stir gently. Don’t overcook or over stir (we’re not making jam). Just mix it up a bit to blend in the starch.
- Pour filling into the pie crust and top with crumble.
- Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes or until crust and crumble turn golden brown and filling bubbles.
- Cool completely before serving.