Rhubarb and I have been buddies since I was a kid. My grandma grew rhubarb in the corner of her garden, and every summer, I would go to her house to help pick and cut stalks to be used in delicious pies. She didn't really need my help since she only had one rhubarb plant, but she never turned down my willingness to help. (Smart grandma!)
She would arm me with a small (a very dull, as I remember) paring knife, and we would go out to the garden to cut away. I remember hating how big the leaves where and how they always tickled my face when I would try to get to the bottom of the stalk to cut it. But I was thrilled to help, nonetheless, because I knew what the reward would be. :)
After we had cut all the worthy stalks, we would haul them to her picnic table and sit, straddling the bench. We would cut off the leaves (which are quite toxic if eaten) and the whitish bottoms of the stalks, and she always had a pot of water for cleaning the stalks. Then we would go to work, cutting the stalks into little chunks, about 1/4" in size.
We would measure 2-3 cups of the diced rhubarb and put it in freezer bags. She would usually use some fresh, but I can never remember a time when grandma didn't have rhubarb in her freezer. I bet if I paid her a visit right now, she could offer up several bags of rhubarb in mere seconds!
I distinctly remember two dishes my grandma made from rhubarb: rhubarb sauce (as she called it) and a very interesting rhubarb pie. The rhubarb sauce was basically rhubarb cooked with sugar until it got all mushy and basically formed something like preserves. It was great on toast...or a spoon...and it was always simple to make. The pie was unlike any other pie I've ever had. Most pies consist of fruit mixed with sugar and thickened with a starch of some sort. This pie, however, was made with those little chunks of rhubarb I so vividly remember floating in a wonderful custard-like filling. There is no top crust, but don't worry, you won't miss it! The custard filling forms a crunchy top that I cannot even begin to describe! And it couldn't be eaten without vanilla ice cream! :)
Ah...such fond memories! :)
Now a few facts:
- There has been much debate over whether or not rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. I don't really care which it is...it's tasty!
- Rhubarb looks like and has a similar texture to celery, but it is red/green in color and very tart. It is beautiful in both color and flavor.
- The Man hates it with a passion!
Ok, that's enough facts...if you want to know more, Google it. :)
How about a recipe?
The following recipe is for the pie I mentioned above and comes from my great grandma Hattie. It's absolutely wonderful, and even if you don't like rhubarb, I strongly suggest you try this pie. It's definitely unlike anything you've ever eaten. (Oh, and don't forget the vanilla ice cream!)
1 1/2 c sugar
3 1/2 T flour
1/2 t freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 t Kosher salt
1 T butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten3 c rhubarb, cut into 1/4" chunks
crust for 9" pie (you only need one crust)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, nutmeg, salt, butter, and eggs. Whisk until combine. Gently fold in the rhubarb and set aside.
Sprinkle an additional teaspoon of flour in the bottom of a 9" pie plate. Carefully lay the prepared, cold pie crust in the pie plate and give it a decorative edge.
Carefully scoop the filling into the crust.
Place the pie plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips while the pie is baking. Tear aluminum foil into strips approximately 3" wide (you'll need about 3 strips of 12" foil). Fold the ends of the foil strips together to make one long strip, making sure the shiny side is continuous. With the shiny side of the foil facing out, carefully wrap the edge of the pie plate and connect the ends of the foil strip. Gently fold the foil over the edge of the crust. This will help prevent the edges from getting too brown while the pie bakes.
Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes until the filling is set, then remove the foil strip. Return the pie to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until the crust is a golden brown.
Let the pie cool completely before serving (with vanilla ice cream!). (This is the most difficult step in the process because the pie smells so wonderful, and it begs to be eaten. But I assure you, it is worth the wait to let it cool so the filling doesn't run all over the place.)
Enjoy! Let me know what you think!
A quick note about nutmeg: nutmeg can be found whole in most grocery stores and ground fresh with a microplane when needed. It's a little bit more expensive, but it's well worth the added cost because the flavor of freshly ground nutmeg is much more intense than pre-ground nutmeg, but pre-ground nutmeg will suffice if you don't have whole nutmeg on hand.