Rhubarb Pie

In Texas, where the climate is too hot to grow rhubarb, it’s not an ingredient most folks here are familiar with.  When it does appear on market shelves in the spring, it can cost upwards of $6 a pound…pricey for a vegetable.  But occasionally I’ll run across it on sale, or we’ll splurge on it at FRANK, and indulge in this delectable and unique ingredient.

Rhubarb is a unique, celery-like plant with bright red stems and big, poisonous leaves chock full of a toxin called oxalic acid…the same poison that gives the tart lemony flavor to wood sorrel or sour grass, which grows everywhere and is a delightful wild addition to salads.  In small doses, oxalic acid is harmless, and you’d have to eat many pounds of rhubarb leaves or wood sorrel to be sickened or killed by it.  (Though scientists suspect there are other toxic compounds in rhubarb leaves, so it’s best not to risk it.)  The stems are the truly delightful part of the plant, with their lovely color and sweet-sour taste.

The classic use for rhubarb is in pie, either standalone, or with strawberries.  I prefer the standalone variety, and it’s actually one of the easiest pies to make.  Even kids can get it right the very first time!

Preheat the oven to 450F, and place a rack on the bottom level of the oven.

Start by making the bottom crust:

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 generous Tablespoons buttermilk

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened.  Add a splash more buttermilk if you have to.  Then gather up all the mixture with your hands, press into a ball, and flatten it.  Wipe your countertop with a wet rag, then lay down a sheet of wax paper or parchment, and lightly flour it.  Set the dough on the wax paper, dust a bit of flour onto the dough, and place another sheet of wax paper on top.  Then roll out with a rolling pin until it’s about 2″ wider than your pie plate.  Remove the top layer of wax paper and set it aside, turn the pie plate upside down on top of your crust, then slip your hand beneath the crust and gently press it to the pie plate.  Invert everything, and now your crust is sitting in your pie plate with the final layer of wax paper on top.  Gently remove the wax paper, and let the crust drape off the sides of the pie plate.

Now prepare your filling.  In a small bowl, combine:

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Sprinkle a couple of Tablespoons of the flour mixture into the bottom of the pie crust.  In a large bowl, place:

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces (about 5 cups)

Add the remaining flour mixture to the rhubarb, and toss it to coat the pieces well.  Then pour the pieces into the pie crust.

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Cut the butter into little cubes and dot the top of the rhubarb with it.  Make another top crust by using the same recipe as the first crust:

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 generous Tablespoons buttermilk

Roll this one out the same way, but only roll it about 1/2″ wider than the pie plate.  Remove the top layer of wax paper, then use the bottom layer to pick up the crust and set it, crust-side down, on top of the rhubarb.  Gently peel away the wax paper.  Press the edges of the top crust onto the bottom crust, then pinch the crust between your fingers to flute the edges.

Showing the method for a fluting a single crust, but it's the same method for a double crust

Cut 4 or 5 slits into the crust to allow steam to escape.  Then gently whisk:

1 egg white

Brush the egg white all over the crust, and then sprinkle on:

2-3 Tablespoons raw sugar

This step is optional, but results in a lovely, shiny crust with crunchy sugar on top, and it’s totally worth it.

Bake the pie on the bottom rack of the preheated 450F oven for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to 350F and continue baking another 40 minutes.  Check the pie regularly, and if the top is starting to brown excessively, just place a sheet of foil over it to divert the direct radiation.

Remove to a cooling rack, and let the pie cool for at least an hour before slicing if you want it to set up enough to slice properly.  Probably, though, your hungry friends and family will tear into it piping hot with forks, not caring about getting a nicely-set slice!

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