Thursday, August 28, 2008


A few weeks ago--about the time the Olympics were a few days old, our friend Jim Newman called to say he had come back from Wisconsin with rhubarb from his family's home and that he'd like to share his grandmother's rhubarb custard pie recipe with me. The catch was that Jim doesn't have a good oven, so he needed to make the pie at our house. The hitch was that Jim didn't make pie crust. He was perfectly happy to buy a frozen crust, but I said I'd be more than happy to make one for the pie.

I'm not a great pie crust maker. My mother is. But I muddle along and I've learned to do a pretty good job with a recipe from the 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking. I use it for my apple and pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving, which is usually the only time I seem to get around to baking these days.

We had a rhubarb plant in our garden at my parents house--it was there when we moved in. I've since learned that rhubarb is also called "pie plant" in some parts of the country. I've tried to plant it here, but so far I haven't gotten it to take. I'm going to try planting the crowns again this fall and hope for the best. Once established, the plants grow forever and thrive on neglect--my favorite kind of gardening. Be aware: the leaves are poisonous, and must be trimmed off. The stalks are incredibly sour, so a generous amount of sugar is necessary when cooking rhubarb.

Mom would make stewed rhubarb (great over ice cream or by itself), rhubarb pie, and strawberry-rhubarb jam. I had never heard of rhubarb custard pie, but it was as good as Jim promised it would be. Jim said I could share the recipe here, so I will, along with the pie crust recipe I use (which Jim has just requested from me.)

Basic Pie Crust from The Joy of Cooking (1975)

Sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 tsp. salt.
Measure and combine 1/2 cup chilled leaf lard or shortening (I use Crisco) and 2 T. chilled butter. Cut half of the shortening into the flour mixtue with a pastry blender until it has the grain of cornmeal. Cut the remaining half coarsely into the dough until it is pea size.
Sprinkle the dough with 4 T. water. Blend the water lightly into the dough. Lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing the moisture to spread. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add an additional 1 tsp. to 1 T. water.
When you can gather the dough into a tidy ball, stop handling it. I find it helps to chill the dough before rolling, and I would divide it into two slightly flattened portions before wrapping it and putting it into the refrigerator. This recipe makes enough pastry for a 9" double-crust pie or a single crust pie with a generous lattice or two 9" single-crust pies.
Filling for Jim Newman's Rhubarb Custard Pie

Beat slightly, 3 eggs.
Add 3 Tablespoons milk
Mix and stir in 2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Mix in 4 cups sliced rhubarb.
Pour into unbaked 9" pie crust.
Bake 50-60 minutes at 400 degrees.
The pie should not jiggle too much in the center when you take it out of the oven.
Jim e-mailed me today saying he had scored some more rhubarb at a farmer's market. It makes me want to go out and get some to make jam. The recipe really couldn't be easier.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

4 Cups Sugar
5 Cups Diced Rhubarb
1 Cup Crushed Pineapple, drained
1 3-Ounce Package Strawberry Gelatin

Mix rhubarb, pineapple, and sugar in large pot. Let stand for 30 minutes. Bring slowly to boil and cook 30 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Pour into sterilized jars and seal with wax. Recipe can be doubled, but if doubled, use three packages of gelatin.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I just found your blog and although i am not much of a cook and dont seem to do much of it, i enjoyed your writing. When i do cook, i like to make at least one part of the meal something i got from a recipe i found somewhere. Kind of like an inspiration piece. I will be checking your site again for some inspiration!

M. C. Valada said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I like your Pony Cousins posts.