Well my friends, a lot has transpired out on the farm since we last talked. It’s been a busy, beautiful, bountiful spring of easily flowing days- something I don’t think I’ve ever said about spring in all my years as a vegetable farmer.
Most of our past springs could be best labeled with words like chaotic, haphazard, overwhelming, stressful. Joyous to be sure, but also riddled with work schedules that never aligned with sunny days, never having enough labor, never having enough time, sheer exhaustion, and an overall feeling of “this is beautiful, but it is also too much.”
Not this year! With reduced hours at my off-farm job (which will be decreasing to NO HOURS by mid June!), no off-farm work for my Carrot, two incredible employees working four days a week each, dry weather, and some new fancy tools and equipment that make us more efficient, Raleigh’s Hillside Farm feels like a completely different enterprise than years’ prior. The energy out here is good, effortless even. Things feel smooth and right and (dare I say) easy.
The real highlight of our (very lovely) last few weeks has been our two new team members. We have fallen completely in love with this hard-working, cheerful, music-loving, optimistic, thoughtful duo. Julia and Peach are both new to working at our farm, but come directly from our loving food community.
Julia had her own farm for several years before finding her way to us. She actually began her farm a year before my Carrot and I (after having worked for other area farms for four years) and was a huge source of inspiration and guidance in our early years. Now she is a whirl of speed and precision, of knowledge and kindness, of hard-work and amazing farmer intuition on our ten acres.
Peach worked with me at my favorite restaurant gig back when my Carrot and my farm was just a crazy dream between two smitten, starry eyed college grads. After long-term stints in Asheville, Beijing, and Baltimore, Peach found herself back in Wisconsin being called to the land. She didn’t have any farm experience before joining our team, but you wouldn’t know it. She’s a totally fearless, quick learner who loves learning new tools.
We began planting when these two lovelies joined the team on April 20th and thanks to both of them (and some seriously favorable weather), we haven’t had to deviate from our planting schedule even once. Peas, onions, broccoli, cabbage, kale, scallions, multiple plantings and varieties of lettuce, fennel, spinach, cilantro and kohlrabi– it’s all in the ground! Most everything has been weeded. It all survived the frosty nights without issue. This week we’ll seed an entire field of roots (that has been tarped for two weeks to provide a stale seed bed) and get two fields of cucurbits planted while finishing our beast of a hoophouse project. Like I said, things are flowing.
And with the farm work being so manageable, my Carrot and I spend some portion of most weekends having fun– enjoying the sunshine, keeping our home clean, baking, reading, and nourishing our hard-working bodies with hikes and runs and yoga. Spending time outdoors for pleasure is not a thing that generally occurs in May. Even though the state of the world is still a little confusing, a little uncertain, and a little daunting, we are so incredibly grateful that the farm feels (at least slightly) calm and within our control.
We’re also feeling incredibly lucky to have our own little batch of perennial food to pull from when we’re hungry or wanting to cook with something fresh. The asparagus my Carrot spent so much energy maintaining earlier this spring has in fact sprung to life. The frost slowed it down, but the week prior to that we were pulling in 3-5 pounds a day. We had roasted asparagus alongside some steaks, made my favorite asparagus soup, scrambled some into eggs, shaved asparagus into a simple salad, and then onto pizza, and then into pasta. We’ve also been putting chives in pretty much everything.
And then this week, we add in rhubarb! Which, given my renewed passion for baking, is extremely exciting. I have a few rhubarb recipes on the blog I really really love (Rhubarb Crisp Pancakes, Rhubarb Margaritas, Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream Sandwiches), but I realized in the midst of a Sunday pastry craving that I don’t have any easy rhubarb dessert recipes for you all. So, I decided to whip up a batch of my new favorite pie dough (thanks Liz!) and spend my afternoon recipe testing some lovely little hand pies.
I love a good hand pie. They are just the most adorable, grab-and-go treat. They make a lovely little gift. And they are super playful and easy to be creative with. I have never gotten the hang of making a full-size pie look pretty. My crimped edges always fall apart, sag and/or melt, but that is never the case with hand pies. Something about their quick bake time makes creative design elements stay put and I love any opportunity to be a little more playful and creative in my kitchen.
I also love this recipe because though it looks fancy and complicated, both the pie dough and the filling are incredibly simple to make. The pie dough requires adequate chilling (of the butter, the water, and the dough) but otherwise comes together quite easily. The filling is just rhubarb and sugar simmered (and barely stirred) for thirty minutes combined with a little cube of cream cheese inside the pastry. Putting it all together can be a tiny bit putsy and time consuming, but again, it’s wonderful if you use it as a time to play. I made them while on a conference call because I get restless staring at screens. It was a real joy.
I hope you enjoy this lovely taste of spring from my kitchen and I hope the invitation to create feels joyous and freeing for you. The future is filled with sunnier days and plenty of great food.
All my springtime love,
RHUBARB HAND PIES
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen
This is the same pie dough recipe I used for the chive & cheddar quiche (with one small difference in technique) and again, all credit for the crust goes to my pie genius cousin Liz. The dough makes enough for 20-30 hand pies or 2 regular pie crusts. In other words, if you only want to make 10 hand pies and use the remaining dough for that quiche, go for it!
Makes 20-30 (depending on the size you make)
Takes 2 hours (30 minutes inactive)
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2-3/4 cup ice cold water
4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, optional
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
4 ounces cream cheese
1 egg, whisked
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
- Cut your butter into small cubes and place in freezer while you collect the rest of your pie ingredients.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt. Fill a measuring cup with 1/2 cup of cold water and add 3-4 ice cubes. Set aside.
- Remove your butter from the freezer and add to flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, two forks, or your fingers to incorporate the butter and break it into small pieces. You are looking for a crumbly mixture with butter pieces no larger than the size of green pea. Work quickly so the butter doesn’t warm. Drizzle in cold water, stir to incorporate and then knead together gently with your hands. If the dough isn’t coming together, add a little more water to your ice cube measuring cup (to quickly chill it) and then add to your pie dough. A dry dough is better than a wet dough, but you do need the mixture to fully come together.
- Break the pie dough into two discs, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
- In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb and remaining sugar over medium low heat. Reduce down for 30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to ensure the mixture is not sticking. Remove from heat and add lemon zest and juice. If you don’t have a fresh lemon, just skip the lemon.
- Pour the rhubarb mixture in a small bowl and place in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes. Leave in the fridge until ready to use.
- When ready to bake your pies, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Flour your counter well and remove one disc of pie dough from the fridge. Sprinkle pie dough with more flour and roll out it out thinly (about 1/8 inch thick). Use a biscuit cutter or upside down glass to cut out the pie dough into small circles or squares. Use something between 2-1/2 or 3-inches in circumference. Use a knife to mark half of the circles with a small X.
- Cut your cream cheese into 1 x 1-inch squares that are about 1/4-inch thick. Don’t worry about getting too exact. What you really want is to divide the cream cheese evenly(ish) so you have enough for each of your hand pies. If you go to big and wind up using 6 ounces of cream cheese instead of 4, or run out and have some handpies without cream cheese, it is totally fine.
- Place a cream cheese piece on half of the dough circles (the ones WITHOUT the X’es). Remove the rhubarb mixture from the fridge and top the cream cheese with a tablespoon(ish) of rhubarb mixture (more if making larger pies, less if using smaller ones). Place the remaining circles of pie dough (the ones with the X’es) on top of the rhubarb (making a little pie sandwich). Use a fork to seal up the pies.
- Brush each pie with egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar (regular sugar will also work fine). Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned. Repeat process with remaining pie dough, cream cheese and rhubarb mixture.
P.S. You may have a little rhubarb mixture leftover (depending on how you rationed it). I recommend you stir it into a margarita or daiquiri while your last batch of hand pies bakes.