There’s no fresh fruit to be had this early in the growing season, but fortunately there’s something else in the garden that can satisfy the craving for fruity flavors: rhubarb! The stems of this bushy, tropical-looking perennial have a citrusy tang that, when baked into a sweetened pie, make a dessert that will have everyone asking for more.
I was first introduced to rhubarb when I was living in Manhattan in a house full of Mennonites. Spring to them meant time for strawberry and rhubarb pie. I figured rhubarb had to be good if people were pairing it with strawberries! But I never actually saw a rhubarb plant until a year or two later when I was living in Brittany, France, and my boyfriend’s father showed me a giant specimen growing in his garden and twisted off a stalk for me to try. It was a bit stringy without being cooked, but the flavor was definitely there.
When I moved back to the States, I decided I had to try growing some rhubarb of my own. After all, it’s a low-maintenance perennial that produces delicious early-season food–what’s not to love? To keep costs down, I decided to start my rhubarb from seed. (For details, see this post.) The only variety that comes true from seed is the heirloom ‘Victoria‘, which I obtained from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. And while it does have its down sides–its stems are mostly green (not the red people often expect from rhubarb) and it bolts rather easily (keeping its production of stems modest)–it thrives with very little care and the taste is superb, as I discovered this week when I baked my first home-grown rhubarb pie.
Since my strawberries won’t be ripening for another couple of weeks, instead of making strawberry rhubarb pie, I went with an Amish recipe that makes rhubarb the star. This recipe comes from Phyllis Pellman Good’s The Best of Amish Cooking (a great book only $5 from BetterWorldBooks.com!), though I’ve modified it slightly based on my experience. I hope you enjoy!
Makes one 9″ pie.
Prepare, but do not bake, a 9″ pie crust. (For my simple, no-rolling-required recipe, click here.)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Dice 3 cups (about 12 oz.) of rhubarb stems. This is the amount shown in the photo of rhubarb stems at the top of this post. Put the diced rhubarb in the unbaked pie crust.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1-1/4 cups sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. flour, 2 Tbsp. water, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, and 2 eggs. Mix well. The result will have a custard-like consistency. Pour this over the rhubarb in the pie crust.
In a small bowl, combine 3 Tbsp. flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, and 2 Tbsp. butter. Mix to form crumbs. Sprinkle over the pie.
Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325°F and continue baking for 45 minutes.
Note: Eat only the stems of rhubarb. The leaves are poisonous!