If you were not really into Little House on the Prairie books when you were little, then you might not remember that in the seventh book in the series (you know, Little Town on the Prairie) where Laura makes a pie out of pie plant. She forgets to add sugar, serves it, and only realizes her mistake when someone lifts up the top crust to sprinkle sugar directly on the filling. I was obviously really into those books. I giggled at Laura’s dismay over the unsweetened pie, and I wondered a bit about what pie plant could be. And I think I chalked it up to one of those things in books that don’t exist in real life.
It was years later, while leafing through those Little House books, and with a brief Internet search, that I identified pie plant as rhubarb. And then I had to make a rhubarb pie. It is called pie plant, I really had not choice.
But based on the dearth of rhubarb pie recipes, it has clearly fallen out of favor as a pie ingredient, or at least as the primary flavor of a pie. I just can’t figure out why. Rhubarb is delicious when baked with sugar (and perhaps a splash of bourbon). It is excellent baked into a buttery cake. Adding in pie crust seems like it can only improve things.
Raw rhubarb is a beautiful deep red stalk. Baked rhubarb is a cheerful pinky-red. So while this pie was baking, I imagined cutting the first slice to reveal a bright pink filling, with little pink spots bubbling up around the crust. Opening the oven, the sweet tart cinnamon smell of the pie took over the kitchen, but when I cut into the pie it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. Rhubarb custard pie filling is… beige. Add to that the browned crust and the custard in the pie filling and you have a toasty brown pie. Golden brown. It’s cute and homey and warm, but not exactly stunning.
True to form in unnecessary worrying, I wasted about ten minutes wondering if I should change the recipe. I considered giving up on rhubarb pie and going back to the classic strawberry-rhubarb combo. But after one bite, any thoughts of alterations disappeared. It is sweet and tangy, and whatever it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in flavor. Maybe we should go back to calling it pie plant.
But seriously, don’t forget the sugar.
- 1 recipe Flaky pie Crust, chilled
- 1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of half a lemon (1-2 tsp)
- 1 tbs bourbon
- 1 cup flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 stick butter
- 1 tsp bourbon
- GREASE a 9-inch pie pan. Roll out the pie dough so that it's approximately an inch bigger than the pie pan on all sides. Transfer the dough to the pie pan (it's easier to do this by folding the dough into fourths, lining it up so it's centered in the pan, and then unfolding it). Roll up any excess pie dough to create a lip on the edge of the pie pan. Use your thumb to crimp the edges of the dough all around the pie pan (or just leave it tall). Put the crust aside while you prepare the sugar.
- COMBINE sugar and lemon zest with your fingers to distribute lemon oil into the sugar (this small steps makes a difference in evenly distributing the lemon flavor).
- WHISK lemon sugar and eggs thoroughly in a medium bowl to combine well. The better you whisk, the smoother the custard will be at the end. Add the lemon juice, salt, and bourbon and whisk to combine. Then fold in the chopped rhubarb. Set the mixture aside.
- COMBINE flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Add the butter and work it together with your fingers until the butter is the size of peas and well mixed into the flour. Add the bourbon and mix well until it forms a crumbly dough. Break up any large pieces of crumb or butter that come up and then set the bowl aside.
- POUR the rhubarb and custard mixture into the prepared pie shell and use a spatula to evenly distribute the rhubarb pieces. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over top, making sure it goes right up to the pie crust.
- BAKE for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is browned and the custard mixture is bubbling under the crumb. Check it after 20 minutes to see if the crust is burning, and if so, cover the edges with a piece of foil to protect it.
- REMOVE the pie from the oven and let it cool at least 20 minutes before serving.
This pie is best warm or at room temperature. You can also make this pie a day in advance and keep it in the fridge overnight. Reheat it at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes.