Rhubarb Pie for Spring

Nothing says spring in New England more that Rhubarb Pie. Rhubarb is one of those fruits that you either love or hate. I happen to love it so when some rhubarb appeared in the grocery store, I snapped some up. I found an interesting recipe for Rhubarb Pie in a new cook book given to me by a friend called New England Cook Book: 300 Fine Old Recipes. The cook book, dated 1956, is printed by the Culinary Arts Press. Beginning in 1934, the Culinary Arts Press began publishing cook books. The New England Cook Book was first printed in 1936 and continued to be reissued up to the 1970s.

Rhubarb Pie is the perfect New England recipe. You’d never find it in a southern cook book, since rhubarb can’t grow in that warm climate. One of the first fruits to appear in the spring, after rhubarb was introduced to New England farmers this pie became a spring-time favorite. After a winter of pies made with stored apples or raisins, rhubarb was a welcome change to the diet.

Rhubarb was first used medicinally in China. Marco Polo brought rhubarb back to Europe where it was also cultivated for medicine, rather than for food. The fruit was introduced to America in the 18th century by Peter Collinson who sent seeds to the famed Pennsylvania botanist, John Bartram.  Bartram grew both types of rhubarb that Collinson sent to him.

In 1739 Collinson wrote Bartram about how rhubarb make great tarts. He even included a recipe which is the earliest recipe in America using rhubarb.

Many falsely attribute Benjamin Franklin with first introducing rhubarb to America. He did indeed send a medicinal form of rhubarb in 1770 to Bartram to grow, but it was Collinson who beat him to the punch. To read more about Bartram and the introduction of rhubarb you might want to read this informative blog from the Philadelphia Historic Plant Consortium.

In the 19th century, rhubarb began to be cultivated for food in New England. Even today, you can find “wild” stands of this incredibly hardy plant by spots where a now long gone home or garden once stood. When I was Director of the Bidwell House in Montery, Massachusetts I discovered a hardy patch in the field behind the house. Probably the site of a former garden for the house, it was now an untended field. Each spring, I’d go out and harvest some of the shoots to make pie.

Making the pie couldn’t have been easier. Especially since I cheated and used a pre-made pie crust.

Here’s the recipe:

rhubarb with the sugar/flour/egg mixture

  • Pastry
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 tbs flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 c. rhubarb cut into 1″ pieces

Add sugar to egg and mix well

Add flour and mix all together with the rhubarb

Fill a pastry-lined pie pan with the rhubarb mixture

Cover the top of the pie with a lattice work design of pastry

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes

Reduce oven to 350 for 25 minutes

The result was yummy! Do let me know if you have memories of rhubarb pie growing up. I’d love to hear about it.


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