Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Rhubarb Custard Pie, fresh from the oven.
After listening to Garrison Keillor for so many years, I have a hard time saying "Rhubarb Pie" without saying "Bebop-a-rebop rhubarb pie," and an even harder time thinking about it without my mouth watering. My big rhubarb plant in the corner of the yard has unfurled its giant leaves and stands there singing a sweet siren song of pie as I water the garden, weed, and rush past it to take the girls to school or other activities.

I've been planning to make it for over a week now, but with the last week of school, the eighth grade formal, sixth grade talent show, mini-society project, mousetrap car projects, awards assemblies, and M's eighth grade "presentation of learning," the rhubarb is still intact in the garden, growing and waiting and tempting.

As we shift from last-day-of-school (today) to first-day-of-summer vacation (tomorrow), I'll bridge the transition with a sweet-tart rhubarb pie, celebrating ends and beginnings and time marching forward.

Rhubarb is also called "Pie Plant." That's a reflection of its best use, in my opinion. I love rhubarb jelly, crisp, muffins, and cake, but pie is its best setting. A sweet, salty crispy crust cradling red and green sugared tartness. Yes indeed. Pie Plant.

I dug out my rhubarb pie recipe last night when my friend Jenn mentioned she had a big rhubarb bouquet to use up. While doing so I set the intention that I would leave the recipe out and make it today.

This morning, I let the hens out, checked on my garden after yesterday's soaking rains, opened the rabbit hutch to give Wilson some yard time, and filled the bird feeder. Checked email, made a list of work projects for the day, and then went out to the garden and gathered up some rhubarb. It was still filled with rain water and the earth was soft and fragrant. There is something about gathering food from my garden that makes me want to hum.

The best way to harvest rhubarb is to grasp it firmly, pulling and twisting it away from the crown of roots. It'll send new stalks up, and if I'm lucky, I'll have enough to freeze for use all summer and into fall.

I carried it inside, washed it and trimmed the ends, then chopped it into 1/4-inch dice. Some people like to use it larger -- a 1/2-inch dice--but for pie I like it smaller.

I hemmed and hawed over whether to make Rhubarb Custard Pie, or simple Rhubarb Pie. The hens have been productive this week, so I'll make the custard pie and use up some eggs, but both are easy to make, and I'll include the recipes for each below.

(My favorite crust recipe comes from the book "Canning for a New Generation." It uses vinegar and an egg, and the crust can withstand a fair amount of handling without getting tough. It's a must-have book!)

Rhubarb Custard Pie
I think this makes a nice change. It's an old recipe, from my mother-in-law, who makes the best pies.
9 inch pie crust
3 eggs
3 T. milk or half-and-half
2 c. sugar mixed with 1/4 c. flour and 3/4 tsp nutmeg
4 c. pink rhubarb diced
1 T. butter
Beat eggs slightly, add milk and mix, then stir in sugar/flour/nutmeg mixture. Add rhubarb, stir to coat, and pour into pastry-lined pie pan. Dot with butter, cover with lattice top, and bake until slightly brown, 400F for 40-60 minutes.

Simple Rhubarb Pie
4 c. chopped rhubarb
1 1/2 c. white sugar
6 T flour
1 T. butter
1 recipe for a 9-inch double pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 F.
Combine sugar and flour. Spread 1/4 of it over the pastry in pie plate. Add rhubarb over this mixture. Sprinkle top of rhubarb with remaining sugar mixture. Dot with small pieces of butter. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut venting slits in top.  Brush crust with milk and sprinkle generously with raw sugar/coarse sugar.
Place pie pan on cookie sheet in case it overflows. Place on lowest rack in oven. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce oven temp to 350 F -- -- I have forgotten that part! -- and continue baking 40-45 minutes.

Postscript: The custard didn't seem to set up, but I think it needs to bake longer than 45 minutes. I'd go for the full hour (covering the crust edge with foil), and maybe add a smidge more flour to the custard mix. Could be my rhubarb was juicier than normal. It was still delicious, just not as custard-y as it should be. Also, it might be best eaten after it cools/chills completely.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! My rhubarb is calling me also. i really thought it would be further along this year with the warmer than usual temps. we've been having- but I'm sure it will be fine.....

    1. You're welcome. It's funny -- both my rhubarb, and MIL's rhubarb, who lives nearby, have found that our rhubarb stalks are really skinny this year. BIG leaves, skinny stalks. I thought they'd be further along too, with this weather. Maybe too dry? Hm.