The Perfect Rhubarb Pie: Getting to Know Seattle's Favorite Pie Maker, Kate McDermott

Kate McDermott, Photo Credit: Kelly ClineYou know it's a good work day when you get to sit down with a good cup of coffee and spend the morning chatting about the art of making pie. And there's no better person to do just that with than Seattle's own favorite pie maven, Kate McDermott.

McDermott has made quite the name for herself within the Seattle food circles -- and beyond. She was voted as the "Food Rock Star of the Year" by Seattle magazine in 2010 and most recently took home the top honor in this spring's Seattle Pie Slam for her Shaker Lemon pie. (Or as she likes to call it, her "When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Shaker Lemon" pie.) She's rolled dough with the likes of Ruth Reichl, has pie pilgrims that fly in from all over the world for a seat in one of her private classes and many have come to refer to her simply as the "The Pie Whisperer." And parents will appreciate this -- she loves making pie with kids. But regardless of her talent (and pie whispering powers), McDermott is downright serious about -- and seriously in love with -- this traditional and much-loved American dessert.

Seattle's seen its fair share of pie popularity in the past two years, yet McDermott's been serving up homemade slices with students since 2006 -- long before it was deemed "hip" again to bake and pie shops were popping up on every corner. On the whole "cake vs. pie" argument, McDermott says, "Pie has always been around and will continue to be around. We've dusted it off and given it the moment, but there's room at the table for everybody!"

McDermott never actually imagined herself as someone who would teach pie making classes, though after some prodding from close friends -- a food writer and a chef -- she put up a modest website with class information. Shortly after, Daily Candy featured a link to her classes and McDermott found herself completely booked out for three months in less than a day. "It just went bananas," she says, "I couldn't believe it!" Now, five years later, it's rare for McDermott to not be booked out months in advance and she's begun offering classes in different states such as California and across the pond in England and France, where she'll be teaching this November. (Regular classes are $175 per person and can all be found on her website -- there are many to choose from.)

I will self-admittedly reveal that like many who take McDermott's sought-after classes, I have always been afraid of making pie. The thought of not having it turn out perfectly (or not turn out at all), or of even forgetting a single step and fudging the entire process has left me feeling as if making pie and setting myself up for failure were synonymous. Though as expected, this is a fear that McDermott is well acquainted with and often "treats" in her classes.

"There's great truth in the saying 'easy as pie,'" McDermott says, "It's a huge misconception. If it was that hard, we wouldn't have been making [pie] for so long. You don't know if you can't do it until you try and practice will only make you better."

McDermott also admits that because of these preconceived notions on the difficulty of pie making, it can be easier to work with kids, who are unafraid and far less intimidated of making the perfect crust from scratch.

"If you give kids a positive experience in the kitchen, they're more inclined to do it again. You can scar a little person for life by telling them that they're doing something wrong," she says. "Remind them that they can do anything, and you never know -- you may just have another Ruth Reichl in your kitchen."

She offers up three simple rules for making pie with children:

1. Do it
Make it fun
Don't sweat the small stuff -- flour on the floor, imperfect edges -- and just let them create

McDermott does teach Mommy & Me private classes, though they are not available on her regular sign-up list. She recommends that interested parents contact her directly to set up a date. (Typical Mommy & Me classes are for three parents and three children; pricing is set at $200 per couple.)

But regardless of her students' ages, there is one rule that McDermott teaches everyone: Keep everything chilled while making pie -- including yourself. "It's just pie," she laughs, "If you run into trouble, throw it into a lasagna pan and make a crumble!"

Kate McDermott's Rhubarb Pie RecipeKate McDermott's Fresh Rhubarb Pie
This recipe is only for the pie's filling; feel free to use the crust of your choice. The pie filling is for one 9" deep-dish pie plate.

8 cups of rhubarb, chopped in various sizes between 1/2"-1 1/2" pieces
1 1/3 cup sugar
Small pinch of ground nutmeg
1/3 tsp. salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tbsp. butter
1 egg white mixed with one tbsp. of water
1 tbsp. sugar for sprinkling on top


Preheat oven to 450F

1. Put first five ingredients in a big bowl and mix until the rhubarb looks like it is coated with coarse wet sand.
2. Heap over pastry in pie plate and dot with little pieces of butter.
3. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut vent holes.
4. Paint egg white wash on top of pie (you won’t need too much) and sprinkle with 1 tbsp. of sugar.
5. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for 40-45 minutes more.

Photo Credits: Kelly Cline and Kate McDermott

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