Every year around this time, a friend gives me rhubarb from his garden so I can make him a pie. It is a hardy perennial that emerges in the spring through early summer and resembles celery but pink in color. A couple of years ago, knowing that I liked to bake, he asked me if I made rhubarb pie. At the time, I did not know much about rhubarb, if I liked it or if I even knew how to make a pie. My baking experience mostly encompassed cakes, cookies and brownies but I decided to take on the pie challenge. To me, the pie dough is the most time consuming part of making a pie since most fruit pies are mainly fruit and sugar.
Rhubarb is a very old plant. It dates back to 2700 BC and grew on the banks of the Volga River near the Ukraine and Russia and in China. It is documented to be used for medicinal purposes in Asia around 206 BC. For centuries, it was only used for this purpose. It took a while to travel to the United States. By the late 18th century it was found in Maine when a gardener brought back seeds from Europe. Its popularity grew and by 1822 it was sold in produce markets. Today's varieties are simply for cooking and is most often used in desserts although you can find it in some Middle Eastern cuisine.
Rhubarb resembles celery but has long green or pink stalks and large glossy leaves. It has a distinct tart taste is mainly cut up and stewed or used in pies, crumbles, tarts and jams. At times it is paired with a sweet fruit such as strawberries to cut the tart flavor. The leaves are poisonous so only the stalks are edible. Botanically rhubarb is a vegetable but in 1947 it was classified as a fruit by a U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, N.Y. because it is mainly used as a fruit. At the time this ruling was significant because there was a higher tax on vegetables.
I made this pie twice. The first time I had the patience and the time, so I made the fresh pie dough. It was super light and flaky and it really was not that hard to do at all. The second time I made this pie, I cheated and used store bought pie dough. Not a bad choice if you are in a rush and don't have the time or want to deal with the cleanup. I have to say that it comes a close second to home-made.
RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
5 cups rhubarb (about 2 lbs) chopped 1 inch per slice
1 Tbs butter
1 beaten egg to brush on crust
DOUBLE CRUST PIE DOUGH:
1 Stick butter - chilled and cut into large chunks
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 1/2 cups flour, plus at least 1/2 cup extra for rolling
Ice water (fill a cup but only use enough to moisten dough)
In a deep, large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt with your hands until you have almond and pea sized lumps of butter. Then drizzle ice water in a little at a time. Toss the water around with your fingers to get the dough. When the dough holds together on its own and doesn't fall apart you can stop adding water. Divide the dough into two balls and form into a disc shape. Sprinkle flour on the rolling surface and on the top of the dough. Roll to a thinness where the dough almost seems transparent. Lift the pie dough into the plate and trim excess dough. (For a more detailed version of dough recipe instructions, consult with the book: Ms. American Pie by Beth M. Howard)
Now it is time to fill the pie.
Prepare the filling: Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and mix with the dry ingredients. Mix in about 5 cups of rhubarb and pour into the pie shell. Place a pat of butter on top then cover with the top crust. Be sure to trim the crust and flute the edges. Brush with a beaten egg.
Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes and then turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling.
**** To avoid a sticky rhubarb mess, line a pan with foil and set the pie on the pan before baking. Good luck and enjoy!
Still not convinced to try rhubarb? Ms. American Pie by Beth Howard has other delicious recipes like toffee pecan, blueberry, black raspberry, apple and more!