Great-aunt Helen’s recipe box has yet again yielded riches. Seasonal riches at that. With rhubarb growing strong in the backyard, my family had been making noises about bringing that rhubarb inside and putting it in a pie.
So when I came across this recipe:I knew we had found our project for this week’s installment of Great-aunt Helen’s Recipe Box.
Helen most certainly used the rhubarb she had springing up in her postage stamp-size backyard. My mom, her niece, has no memories of this particular pie, though does remember Helen’s love of baking pies as well as the small jars of rhubarb sauce she would make with that same rhubarb.
Calling for an “unbaked shell” leaves room for improv. Store-bought pie dough is perfectly acceptable. (I’ve read that Pillsbury’s brand is indistinguishable from homemade.) But if you’ve been here before you know I made the crust myself as my kitchen mantra is usually of the stubborn-toddler “me do it!” variety. (Which much like dealing with that toddler, can be exasperating.) More importantly, Helen made her crusts from scratch, even if it meant putting up a pastry board in her tiny kitchen so she’d have room to roll.
Because the pie filling was basic, I branched out with the crust. Susan G. Purdy’s Family Baker offered a recipe containing more than the usual flour, salt, chilled butter, and ice water.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 5 to 8 tablespoons ice water
In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until broken down into pea-size clumps. Stir in lemon juice. Gradually stir in ice water just until dough forms. Divide dough into halves; form each half into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate 5 or so minutes.
On floured surface, roll one ball of dough into circle large enough to fit 9-inch pie pan with 1 inch hanging over side. Transfer crust to pan. Fill and top with second crust as directed.
Purdy’s dough was a dream to work with–neither too sticky nor too dry. The lattice, per Helen’s instructions, came together with minimal fuss. For the first time in my pie-making experience, making a pie was truly Easy As Pie.
Back to that filling: No amount was given for the butter; I used about 1 tablespoon. As well, the butter was written to go on after the lattice was formed, which didn’t seem right. I dropped the butter pieces on before adding the top crust.
The second side of Helen’s card mentioned using an extra egg if the eggs are small, which struck me as quaint. When was the last time you saw small eggs at your local grocers? And in June of ’83, Helen noted that an extra 10 minutes in the oven was needed. Thirty minutes (10 at 450ºF, remaining 20 at 350ºF.) just wasn’t enough. That extra 10 allowed for better browning.My one addition was brushing the unbaked crust with milk and sprinkling with salted-caramel sugar (Mother’s Day gift!). A simple sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar would do nicely, too, though any embellishment is optional as the pie is lovely as-is.
If you live in area where rhubarb is readily available this time of year, I encourage you to grab a bunch and get baking. This pie is too simple to not make and even simpler if you go for that store-bought crust.
The downside is that the pie may disappear just as quickly as it came together. Ours was history within 24 hours. Which means I’ll have to throw another one together if there’s any hope of finding a cocktail to pair it with for next week’s installment of Cocktail U. Please do return so we see how this all turns out 🙂