Spring Offering - Rhubarb-Custard Pie

Even when unhappy things happen, it's hard not to celebrate the season. This is especially true when the rhubarb patch is ready for the first picking, which means that I can make the best pie that I make all year:

Rhubarb-Custard Pie

The recipe is adapted to a couple of sources. The half and half crust comes from Tassajara Cooking and the filling comes from the 1970 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have made some changes to the original recipes to suit current thinking about food, and my personal taste. The egg does something very nice to smooth out the astringent quality that rhubarb can have, and I use less sugar than you will find specified in most rhubarb pie recipes.

First, make the filling:

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1 inch slices (8 to 10 large stalks)

Beat the eggs well. Add the sugar, and whisk until smooth. Add the flour and spices, and whisk until smooth.

Cut the rhubarb.

This rhubarb comes from my own small patch of two plants. It originally grew in my grandmother's garden in Illinois.

Stir the rhubarb into the egg mixture.

Make the crust.

1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons cold water

The original recipe specifies corn oil, but I only have extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen, so that's what I use. The raw crust will have an olivey taste, but have faith - the olive oil taste disappears during baking, and no one will realize that you have used such an unusual choice for a pastry oil.

While this crust can be made in a traditional manner, I make it in my food processor. Here is how I do it:

Put regular metal blade into food processor.
Dump the flours and salt into the food processor. Pulse a few times to mix.
Add butter, cut into smaller pieces. Pulse 5 or 6 times for a few seconds per pulse. Flour mixture should look a bit crumbly, and there should be no noticeable large pieces of butter.
Add olive oil. Pulse 5 or 6 times for a few seconds per pulse.
Add water. Pulse a few times, a few seconds per pulse, until water is evenly distributed and dough is evenly crumbly in appearance.

This is a short crust rather than a flaky crust, and is a bit delicate to handle due to the whole wheat flour. It works best to roll it out between sheets of wax paper.

Roll out half of the crust dough, and fit it into a pie pan.

Put the egg and rhubarb mixture into the crust-lined pie pan.

Roll out the other half of the crust dough, and cut it into strips. Make a lattice top with the strips. This is a little tricky with this particular crust, but it can be done. Handle the strips quickly, and support them as much as possible with a knife or your fingers.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.

The final result:

I've done some experimenting with different top crusts, or the lack thereof, with different pie recipes over the past couple of years. I have learned to trust the recipe - it makes a difference. Some pies do better with a solid crust, some with a lattice, and some with none. I think the custard in this pie needs to breathe a bit, so a lattice crust does work the best, as well as looking pretty.

Tonight we went to Rob's house for supper - hot dogs, rice pilaf, salad, pie and ice cream. Carter showed off his marksmanship with his new BB gun, and played video games with Ana. There was a pensive moment or two, but we were all cheerful with each other, and hopeful about the future. And we enjoyed a slice of late spring and shared some love with each other.

If anyone else makes this pie, please let me know if you like it.


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