What’s not to like about rhubarb pie? I can already hear you saying, “The rhubarb.” The world seems to be divided into two camps: those (like me) who love rhubarb, and those who would rather eat just about any other fruit or vegetable.
As the stalk of a huge leaf, rhubarb is actually a vegetable even though it is classified by some as a fruit. It really can function as either one. When I was growing up, my grandmother had several huge clumps of rhubarb (often called “pie plant” in those days) growing in her back yard. A new crop of rhubarb was one of the first signs of spring, and I would delight in breaking off a stalk and, with salt shaker in hand, eating the whole thing like a rib of celery. The acidy, citrusy taste made my mouth pucker, a sensation loved by small children. It was a great treat.
Of course, I was warned by most of the adults not to eat the leaves, as they were supposed to be poisonous. I have later learned that the acid taste as well as the poisonous aspect of the plant is due to oxalic acid, which also accounts for the tart taste of sorrel and spinach. Indeed, if you eat too much, the usually water-soluble form of oxalic acid can precipitate as an insoluble calcium salt in your kidneys and cause kidney stones or even kidney failure. Medical alert aside, the amount of rhubarb eaten by a small child in one sitting is not likely to be harmful unless it includes those toxic leaves.
By far, though, the main use for rhubarb is as a fruit in sauces, compotes, jams, and the quintessential pie. To make all of that work, you need to use a lot of sugar, and that is probably one reason that rhubarb has fallen out of favor in our current sugar-conscious (note that I didn’t say sugar-averse: think canned soft drinks) society. If you are able to get over that hurdle, the color and flavor of cooked rhubarb continue to make it a springtime treat.
I found some beautiful stalks of rhubarb at the farmers’ market this last weekend, so I decided to make a rhubarb pie.
- Pie dough for a 9 inch two-crust pie (use your own recipe or, as I did, cheat and use ready-made sheets)
- about 6 to 8 stalks of fresh rhubarb (enough for 5 cups of ¼ inch to ½ inch pieces)
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 32 pieces
- turbinado sugar
- Follow instruction for preparing pie dough. Roll out or prepare two dough circles big enough for a 9 inch pie. Line a 9 inch glass pie pan with one of the circles, trimming the dough along the edge of the pie pan.
- Cut the rhubarb into ¼ to ½ inch pieces and place them in a large bowl.
- Combine the sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla in another bowl, mixing well. Add the mixture to the rhubarb and mix so that the rhubarb is completely coated.
- Fill the pie shell with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with the bits of butter. Cover with the second circle of pie dough, trimming, tucking under the other crust, and crimping.
- With a pastry brush, paint the top of the pie with cream. Do not paint the crimped edge. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and cut several vents.
- Bake for 15 minutes in the middle of an oven preheated to 450°F. Reduce the temperature to 350°F and continue baking for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- Cool on a baking rack. Best when served warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.