I know the bag says "a low calorie food," but does anyone eat rhubarb without first putting a lot of sugar on it?
Anyway, this past Sunday was Mother's day, and Our Grandmother of Cookrye really likes rhubarb. So, this seemed as good a time as any to once again make... this!
|A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs. George O. Thurn, 1934|
|Custard Rhubarb Pie|
2 c cut-up rhubarb (or 10 oz frozen)
2 eggs, separated
1 c sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1½ c (approx.) powdered sugar
1 pie shell
If using frozen rhubarb, thaw it and retain all juices. If using fresh, pour boiling water over it, soak about 5 minutes, and drain, retaining about 3 tablespoons of water on the rhubarb.
Heat oven to 350°.
Stir together the sugar and flour. Add the egg yolks and mix. Melt the butter and add it along with the rhubarb. Mix everything together, beating out any large lumps of sugar and egg. Put in the unbaked pie shell and bake about an hour and a half.
Make the meringue about ten minutes before the baking time is up:
Beat the egg whites until almost completely stiff. Add the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time until sweetened to taste. Scatter each spoonful over the surface rather than dumping it in a heap on the egg whites; it will mix in easier that way. Spread it over the pie (it will be thin- more like a baked-on icing). Return to the oven, reduce heat to 300°, and bake until the meringue is a nice golden color.
Bake the pie shell before beginning.
Put a the bottom of a double boiler on to boil, reduce heat to medium when it boils vigorously.
In the top of a double boiler, stir together the sugar and flour. Add the egg yolks and mix. Add the rhubarb and butter and mix everything together, beating out any large lumps of sugar and egg. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to help it mix.
Put over hot water and drop in the butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard very thick and the rhubarb is soft and easily falls apart when pressed into the side of the pot with a spoon. Put it into the pie shell.
Just before making the meringue, heat oven to 325°. Beat the egg whites until almost completely stiff. Add the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time until sweetened to taste. Scatter each spoonful over the surface rather than dumping it in a heap on the egg whites; it will mix in easier that way. Spread it over the pie (it will be thin- more like a baked-on icing). Bake until golden.
A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs. George O. Thurn, 1934
One got the idea that the recipe looked different before the Depression forced severe cutbacks in grocery budgets. More eggs (or some milk or cream) would have made the sugar actually mix into a liquid instead of forming damp clumps in the pot.
But the cutbacks in dessert ingredients actually made this pie better than it might have been. Having less custard made the rhubarb flavor wonderfully concentrated. Even saving out the egg whites to make a thin-yet-still-there-dangit topping was a lot better (I thought) than a huge cloud of meringue or whipped cream would have been. It offset the tart rhubarb perfectly instead of having a big, puffy, and entirely separate existence on top of it. The recipe may have directed that one bake the meringue at a lower temperature (as opposed to using a really hot oven the way one normally does) so that the cook could energy by baking other things alongside it, but it also made the meringue more like a firm icing than a hyper-light foam.
That said, it spent a long time in the oven. I've baked whole chickens faster than this pie. I didn't even have a baked potato sharing oven space with the pie, nor is the weather cold enough to make heating the kitchen for so long seem reasonable. We thought it might be better to fire up a stove burner than the oven. So, today we shall find out: Is it better to cook this pie on the stove or in the oven?
As we begin, I want to note that the makers of frozen rhubarb definitely saw me coming when they printed the defrosting instructions.
And so, this pie begins with... sugar, eggs, and a stealth amount of flour! You can't see the sneaky glutens because I already stirred them together.
Once again, we had to pretty thoroughly beat the crap out of a bunch of egg-sugar lumps. Later it occurred to me: Why not drain the rhubarb juice into the bowl and mix it in at the same time as the egg yolks? That might add just enough liquid to prevent sugar clumps which you have to bash into the side of the bowl with the spoon.
|I have no idea what that butter is supposed to do, but let the record show that I remembered to add it.|
I must admit that I'm curious if this is any better with fresh rhubarb than frozen. But rhubarb can't take the heat in this part of the country. The few guides I've seen to growing it in this climate say that the only way it will work is if you plant it in August or September, let it grow through what we laughingly call a winter, and accept the fact that the plant will die as soon as the summer heat returns.They also say to expect a puny harvest since the plants will not live long enough to mature. So, frozen it is!
I had only one thought as I looked on what I had wrought:
"More like rhu-barf, right?"
I won't lie, it tasted fricken amazing. If you've never had rhubarb before, you totally owe it to yourself to find it in the frozen aisle. But it looked like miserable cafeteria slop--- after someone already ate it. Putting it in the little pie crusts did not make it any prettier.
|Still looks like pink puke.|
Maybe that's why Mrs. George O Thurn has us save the egg whites: hiding what the pie looks like.
|Hooray! The pies are pretty!|
You may have noticed that those are tiny little pies. And the reason for that is... look what was on sale!
I should have started making tiny pies before I ever tried to roll out a crust for a big one. Seriously, this was so easy compared to trying to keep a big sheet of pie dough from tearing. Incidentally, those who want to make tiny pies but don't want to get the pans can totally use cupcake pans (disposable or not) instead - see here and (more ineptly) here. You'll get adorably dainty individual-sized pies out of it.
|Note the use of foil because I hate washing dishes.|
While the pies were baking, I smushed the pie scraps together, found some forgotten fruit, and made myself a little present.
|I don't care how ugly it looks, it was delicious.|
Anyone using foil to make a pan for a fruit pie should note that the juice dripping out of the bottom is a very powerful glue. You will spend more time than you think removing stuck-on foil from your creation.
But back to the pie! Or in this case, miniature pies! They came out of the oven looking as delicious as they tasted. It's not that I fuss over presentation, but it's nice when your culinary perpetrations do not make you say "Just try it, it's better than it looks."
Oddly, there was a lot more custard in the stovetop pie than in the baked pie made from the same recipe. However, both of them tasted the same. Which brings us back to: is it better to make this pie on the stove or to just bake it?
While the pie was definitely done a lot faster this way than by leaving it in the oven for a really long time, it was also more work to separately cook the crust, the filling, and the top. But between baking the crust and later the meringue, the oven time did not get reduced as much as one might think.
It's definitely delicious either way. But I personally favor just dumping it all in the oven and coming back in an hour or so. The stovetop method might be worth it if you're making the filling ahead (obviously, you can just freeze the egg whites for the meringue alongside it), but otherwise it's not the time-saver I hoped for. The pie's still fricken delicious though.