If You Think You Don’t Like Rhubarb

There are people like that out there, you know.  People who don’t like rhubarb, I mean.  I totally get it, and in fact I used to be one of them….but my husband most definitely was not.  Since I like him so much, for years I would suck it up and bake traditional rhubarb pies every spring, with a filling of sliced rhubarb coated in sugar and flour or cornstarch in between two perfect rounds of pastry.  And I always thought to myself, what a waste of a good pie crust!

Then one fine spring day I was visiting a nice lady named Ellie and as I was leaving she handed me a big bag of rhubarb from her garden.  I confessed that I’d never been too fond of rhubarb and she said something along the lines of “That’s because you’ve never had my rhubarb pie,” and then she pulled out a little tin recipe box and handed me a tattered magazine clipping.  I asked to copy the recipe down, but she insisted that I take the clipping because she had the recipe firmly committed to memory.  I have a vague recollection that she told me the recipe was cut from an old Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but I might be imagining that part.

Well, Ellie was right and this pie is really good…..and it’s the only kind of rhubarb pie I’ve made ever since that lucky day sometime back in the late 20th century.  I’ve changed the recipe just a bit, cutting down over the years on the original two cups of sugar to 1¼ cups, and that seems like enough to make the filling satisfyingly sweet while still letting the rhubarb tartness come through.  I think it originally had more flour, but with the eggs also working to thicken the filling, two tablespoons of flour is enough to do the job.  In fact, my friend Gariann came over to bake with me a few Saturdays ago, and we didn’t realize until she was mixing my filling and her pie was already in the oven that we’d skipped over the flour on hers, and from all reports it still turned out very well.  We went with a plain top crust on our pies, but a lattice crust would be a nice touch – easy to do, but not a requirement.  Don’t, however, skip the blind baking on the bottom crust, because the filling is very liquid at first and the blind baking ensures a perfectly done bottom crust.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

  • Pastry for double crust pie
  •  3 eggs, beaten (reserve a couple of teaspoons of the beaten egg to glaze the top crust of the pie before baking)
  •  1 1/4 cups sugar
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  2 tablespoons flour
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  •  1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 4 cups sliced rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Roll out pastry for the bottom crust and form a high fluted rim in the pie pan; blind bake for 10-15 minutes. Roll out the top crust while the bottom crust is baking and combine the filling ingredients except the rhubarb.  Put the rhubarb in the bottom crust and pour the filling over top.  With the rhubarb, start with 3½ cups and add more if there is room after you pour the custard filling on top – it will expand some during baking, so keep that in mind to avoid overflow burning all over the bottom of the oven (um, yes, voice of experience).  Cover the filled pie with the top crust, trim edges, and press lightly to seal. Whisk the reserved egg with a drop or two of cream or milk until it starts to get a little foamy, then brush it lightly over the top crust and sprinkle with a kiss of sugar for a pretty sparkle.  Cut slits in the top crust so steam can escape (you may need to recut during baking; also, it is a good idea to cover the fluted edge with strips of foil during the first half of the baking time so the edge doesn’t burn).

Bake at 450 F. for 20 minutes; reduce heat to 325 and bake another 45-55 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown.  Let the pie cool 30 minutes or so before cutting; it is good warm, room temperature, or chilled, and any leftovers should be refrigerated.


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