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.