Beside the weather FINALLY getting nice, the best part about late May and early June in Michigan is the annual harvest of rhubarb. It seems to be everywhere. Up in Michigan's Thumb, it's not unusual to see signs that say "Rhubarb" in front of homes. In one case, a sweet elderly couple had themselves a bumper crop of the tart red stalks and were selling them at the local flea market. They were bound in bunches of ten stalks - price: $1. Now, even if you don't like rhubarb you have to buy it with a deal like that!!
I've been stocking up as this really is a seasonal thing. I wash the stalks and trim them, cut them up into inch sized pieces, put them in bags and in the freezer they go. If you have room between the Cool Whip and peas and carrots for a few bags of rhubarb, you'll be glad to have them in the freezer in September when you have a hankering for warm rhubarb sauce.
Over the weekend, I thought I'd put some of my recently acquired rhubarb to use and put together a pie. There are lots of variations: rhubarb-strawberry, rhubarb-blueberry, rhubarb-pineapple (sounds crazy but it's wonderful). I decided on a rhubarb-custard pie. The rhubarb provides the tart, the custard brings home the sweet. Much like life, a fine balance of the two tastes.
Of course, this pie starts with making a crust. Most people who bake with any regularity have a go-to crust recipe. Or, some folks who bake don't want all the fuss and like the ease of unrolling a Pillsbury crust from the supermarket. This is a 9-inch double crust pie - so make your dough any way you like. Here's my recipe:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening (Crisco, lard or a combination of the two)
4-5 TBSP ice cold water
Mix the flour and salt. Add a little more than half of the shortening. Cut it in with a pastry blender. When flour is looking like very coarse meal, add the rest of the shortening and continue to cut in until it is incorporated and the pieces are small - about pea size. Add cold water a tablespoon a time until dough comes together with a fork and can be formed into a ball. Cut ball in half and flatten each half into the shape of a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
Rhubarb Custard Pie Filling
I can't take any credit for this recipe. It comes out of the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book. This book was a gift from my dear cottage neighbor who always seem to find things that she knows I will love, like this classic cook book. With the shelves and shelves of cookbooks in my library, I come back to this book perhaps the most (with the possible exception of the 1953 edition of the Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book). I made a few modifications to suit my own tastes, so feel free to make it to your liking.
2 and 2/3 TBSP milk
2 cups of sugar (if you don't want it super sweet - cut this back to 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. nutmeg (I replace this with 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 TBSP butter
Preheat oven to 400°F
Line pie pan with bottom crust.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk and mix well.
Stir in sugar, flour and spices.
Add rhubarb, stir.
Pour into pastry-lined pan.
Dot with butter.
Cover with top crust. Make a number of vent slits in top crust - make a hole in center for venting.
Bake @ 400° F until set and nicely browned, about 45-50 minutes.
It's wonderful with vanilla ice cream, but then most things are. Enjoy!