I always get excited when I come across a new food. Which is why yesterday, when I was at my local farmer’s market, I bought two pounds of rhubarb. It’s not that rhubarb is new, but I’d never seen it for sale and had never tried this vegetable with its distinctive red, celery-like stalks and its unusually tart taste. However, I had read plenty about it and its uses, which are far from normal for a vegetable. You see, while it’s possible to make a savory dish from rhubarb, it’s most often used like a fruit for desserts where its sour taste is balanced with plenty of sugar. Making it even more mysterious is the fact that you can’t eat its leaves, which are toxic to humans, because of the oxalic acid they contain. Let’s just say it’s not your typical vegetable.
Which is why I couldn’t wait to make something with it. Fortunately, there was no shortage of recipes. Some recipes suggested using rhubarb in combination with strawberries or ginger, others called for preserving the vegetable, and I even saw one recipe for soaking rhubarb in vodka with sugar to make a rhubarb schnapps. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic recipe for rhubarb pie found in the cookbook classic, Joy of Cooking, which I adapted to include the cup of strawberries that I had on hand that had passed their peak.
It rained all day which made it a perfect day for baking. The red of the strawberries and the cotton candy pink interior of the rhubarb made the pie look beautiful, but I had to admit I was skeptical. I had eaten a piece of raw rhubarb as I prepped my ingredients and, even though I was braced for it, I found it to be surprisingly piquant with a mouthpuckering effect similar to that of a lemon. It’s texture was crisp, but also quite dense, and it wasn’t the type of vegetable that you could imagine softening enough to make a good filling for a pie. Luckily, I didn’t give up on it. It softened beautifully when cooked and thanks to plenty of sugar it made a wonderful summer treat with a refreshing balance of tang and sweetness. It would be perfect with vanilla ice cream although I had no problems devouring a piece of it on its own.
The only problem? I have a bad habit of loading up my pies with too much filling. While they look bounteous, it’s a recipe for filling your house up with smoke. This pie would prove to be no exception and thirty minutes into cooking it I was summoned downstairs into a gray haze by my dog barking crazily. Thus began a period of momentary chaos as windows were flung open, fans turned on, and a kitchen towel waved below the fire alarm in the hopes of not setting off the fire alarm for what would not be the first time. On a side note, our neighbors love to point out the fact that for having gone to culinary school I seem to set my fire alarm off quite often—something that I blame on a bad ventilation system, although that is beside the point! Needless to say, putting a baking pan on a rack below your pie as it bakes (and replacing it with a clean one as needed) will keep the sugary filling from dripping onto the bottom of your oven, consequently blackening into charred goo, and filling your house not with the aroma of pie baking, but rather with the lovely scent of burning sugar and smoke. Trust me. I’ve been there.
With that word of caution in mind, find yourself some rhubarb. Whether you make the recipe for rhubarb pie below or go in an entirely different direction, it will be worth it! Bon appetit!
Rhubarb Pie (with strawberries!)
Adapted from Joy of Cooking recipes for “Rhubarb Pie” and “Basic Pie or Pastry Dough” (citations for these recipes can be found following this recipe)
1.5 lbs Rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup Strawberries, sliced
1 1/2 cups Sugar, less if rhubarb is particularly sweet
1/4 cup Cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon Salt
Combine all five ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the sugar and cornstarch are evenly distributed.
2 1/2 cups Flour
1 1/4 teaspoon Salt
3 tablespoons Butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup Vegetable Shortening, chilled
Preheat oven to 425° and put a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Combine flour and salt. Cut butter and vegetable shortening into flour using your hands or a pastry blender until fat is about the size of small peas.
6 Tablespoons Water, ice cold
Slowly add water to flour mixture gently mixing with a fork. The addition of water should result in your dough coming together. Add up to one more tablespoon of water if needed to get dough to come together.
Divide pie dough in half. Take first half and roll out in the shape of a circle. Place in pie crust.
2 Tablespoons Butter, cut into small pieces
Add rhubarb and strawberry mixture into the pie crust. Sprinkle with small pieces of butter.
Roll out second half of pie dough. Cut into strips to create a lattice or you can take the entire piece of dough and cover the pie completely. If you do this,be sure to cut small holes for steam ventilation.
Milk and Granulated Sugar
Brush crust lightly with milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Place pie on rack in the bottom third of your oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn as needed for even cooking. Reduce heat to 350° F and cook for about 30 minutes more or until filling is bubbling.
Remove from oven and cool completely before serving.
Recipe adapted from the following recipes:
Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. “Rhubarb Pie.” Recipe. Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2006. p. 680.
Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. “Basic Pie or Pastry Dough.” Recipe. Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2006. p. 664.