15 June 2009
Rhubarb Cream Pie
Things We Take for Granted
In the small town where I grew up several decades ago, pies were plentiful. Pretty pies piled high with meringue or topped with decorative golden brown crusts were common. There were a wide variety of delicious fillings. Some made good use of plentiful seasonal produce. Others were designed to stretch a dollar or satisfy cravings for items that were hard to come by, simulating their taste or texture.
In the community cookbooks from that small town there were recipes for Peanut Butter Chiffon Pie, Autumn Harvest Pie, Kentucky Transparent Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Mock Apple Pie, Blissful Banana Pie, Moonshine Pie, Malt Shop Pie, Chocolate Chess Pie, Pecan Praline Pie, and..... Rhubarb Cream Pie. At a church potluck you might see any of these pies and more. For holidays or special occasions, if company was coming or it was Sunday dinner, there would be at least one pie to bring to the table for dessert. Pies, and the clever sweet cooks who made them, were easy to come by in the storybook world I remember growing up in.
With so much in the way of opportunity, why is it I never took a bite of a Rhubarb Cream Pie until today? It's a fair question and a good one. The thing is, growing up, I never really had any trouble saying no to pie. I guess it didn't seem all that special to me. Pies were such a fact of life that it must have seemed to me that I could afford to take them for granted. Never a fan of mystery ingredients or sweet fruit flavors I stuck to the pies that promised tart citrus flavors or smooth chocolate fillings. It seems I overlooked the rest. Unsure of what went into those other pretty pies I opted not to try them.
As it turns out that preference for tart citrus flavors is one reason I should have tried Rhubarb Cream Pie long ago. Made with tart stalks of pretty red and green rhubarb it has a significant tang. And, once you get past the crust (which I confess I still find challenging despite my documented disasters and learning curve last year), it is also an easy pie to make.
These days a fine homemade pie is harder to come by. They can be found here and there but you have to know where to look. Better yet, if you know the secret or have one of those coveted special recipes, you can make one yourself. There is no surer way to take a trip across the country to the place where my memories were made. Actually the whole process of making a pie is full of little cues that can take me home. The sound of nested stainless steel bowls being pulled from the cabinet, of the scrape of a measuring spoon against the edge of a container of baking powder, even the sound of water running into the sink can take me back to my aunt's kitchen. And then there is the smell of the tart rhubarb, of a freshly opened jar of ground cinnamon or of a pie baking in the oven. Even the motions specific to the kitchen, rolling the pie pastry, measuring sugar, stirring together the filling, remind me of where I am from. Cooking is very grounding.
I have my share of those special recipes. One of them comes from Cousin Alvine, whose house was at the end of the lane I lived on as a child. She was my dad's and Aunt Hen's first cousin and they grew up there together. She was also the church organist for as long as I can remember. When I decided to get married there was no question that she would be the one to do the music. One day, when we stopped by her house to talk about the wedding, she offered us a slice of her Rhubarb Cream Pie. Picky as ever, I declined, but my husband-to-be had a slice, maybe even two.
Years later as fewer and fewer of the folks I remembered remained in the area I decided to begin making my family cookbook. Near the end of the project I remembered that slice of pie and wrote to my cousin for the recipe. She wrote back:
That was several years ago. I cherished the thought and memory behind the recipe but I was never really much of a pie baker. I confess that I find pie pastry, not to mention lattice tops, challenging. In the shuffle of finishing projects and organizing folders my cousin's letter and recipe got filed away in my now inactive genealogy project, instead of my kitchen files, without me ever having actually tried the recipe.
Since then more things have changed. My cousin has passed away and I have been reminded again of that pie. I have begun another project writing about food. I have even made some progress in making pie pastry and was glad for a chance to try my hand at making a lattice crust. So now I am finally baking this pie for my family.
I may be slow but you can't say that I never get there. I made the pie exactly as directed from crust up including the lattice top. And you know, it is really delicious! The filling is tart and the cinnamon adds a nice touch of spice. I don't know what I've been waiting for all of these years. The secret has always been within my reach. It's been there waiting for me to pick it up and take a trip back home.
Rhubarb Cream Pie
From my cousin, Alvine
1 unbaked pie shell ( 9-inch)
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, sliced thin
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tablespoons butter, cut up on top of filling
a little milk
extra sugar for sprinkling (I used vanilla sugar)
Mix the sugar, salt, beaten eggs and rhubarb well. Dot with butter. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top. I pour extra sugar around the edge of the pie (a tablespoon or so) then make strips of pastry and make a lattice across the top. Pour a little milk on the lattice crust to make it brown and crispy. Sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 40 minutes more.
Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Note: After 10 minutes at 400 degrees, I baked mine for approximately 60 minutes at 325 degrees. Perhaps the variation was because I used a deep dish pie plate. I suggest watching carefully and removing the pie from the oven when the crust has browned to your satisfaction.