Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When I Think of Spring

Rhubarb Pie--a spring favorite in Michigan.

When I think of Spring, I think of fresh wild asparagus, daffodils and tulips, and rhubarb. I don’t know why I think of rhubarb, but I do. I know that there were two hills of rhubarb growing way in the back of the farm behind the chicken coop and the asparagus beds, to the left of the orchard that never really bore fruit.

Our house on McKean Road in Willis, Michigan circa late 1950s.
In my own personal mythology I can’t remember my mother ever making anything with rhubarb. Maybe she made a pie, but it doesn’t stand out in my memory. But I have this obsession, every spring, to make a rhubarb pie. So I watch for it at my local supermarkets. Sometimes they don’t have it. Other times the stalks are just too green and I know there won’t be much taste or the taste will be too bitter. But sometimes I get lucky and I find a decent batch of rhubarb, not as good as fresh-picked, but it will do when you have the obsession.

In 1974, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I left for Florida in January in a snowstorm, and never looked back. Somewhere in the three years I spent in Naples, Florida, I acquired a cookbook titled “A Treasury of Great Republican Recipes” compiled and edited by The Women’s Republican Club of Greater Naples, published in 1970. The recipes included Mrs. Richard M. Nixon’s Barbecued Chicken Sauce and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Sugar Cookies, but the only one that caught my eye was Mrs. John Kyl’s (Wife of U.S. Representative Kyl of Iowa) Rhubarb Cream Pie.

It isn’t really a cream pie, more custard than cream. And some people don’t care for it because of the custard, expecting a pie more like cherry or strawberry that is only fruit. But for me, when the rhubarb is good, and the sweetness of the custard melds just right with the tartness of the rhubarb, it is nirvana. I think of spring and dream of new beginnings and fresh starts, and the scent of daffodils and tulips.

Rhubarb Cream Pie with Almond Crumb Crust

1 9- inch pre-made pie crust (I like the Marie Callender Frozen Pie Crust when I don’t have time to make a real pie crust)
1 egg white, slightly beaten

3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons half and half
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 cubes
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare pie crust. Brush with slightly beaten egg white. This helps to seal the crust.

For the filling, stir together in a large bowl, the sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and nutmeg and mix just until combined. Add the rhubarb and stir gently until all of the rhubarb is coated with the filling.

Spoon filling into the chilled uncooked pastry shell.

To make crumb topping, sift together sugar, cinnamon and flour. Put in food processor. Add butter. Pulse until the mixture begins to look like coarse crumbs, about 2 minutes. Empty mixture into large bowl and add sliced almonds. Use two knives to break up flour mixture and incorporate almonds.

Spoon crumb crust topping over top of pie.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. If crust edges are browning too much put a foil collar around the edge of the pie.

Cool the pie to room temperature before serving.

Serves 8.

Prep time: 30 minutes.

Bake time: 45 minutes.

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