In May I visited my friend Deborah who comes from the Netherlands and she made me Apfeltaart, also known as Dutch apple pie. Other than an apple pie I once shared with a handsome man next to a Berlin lake, it was one of the best apple pies I had ever tasted. The crust was buttery-sweet like a tart, but flaky like old-fashioned American pie. Most surprising was that she made it in 9 inch cake pan; with a flip out of the pan and flip onto a cake stand it was presented flawlessly—no spring form necessary.
I pedaled my bike home from Deb’s house and couldn’t stop thinking about making a seasonal pie dedicated to my own homeland. Rhubarb lush and ripe in the garden, I harvested some tart stalks and went into the kitchen to develop a rhubarb pie recipe.
I was excited to tell anyone that would listen about my Minnesota rhubarb pie, including people I met in a restaurant.
“Oooh no no no! You Northerners and your rhubarb.” Wilma shook her head with a soured face. “I just don’t get you,” she said. I looked to her husband for support but he seemed just as bitter about the fruit.
“You know, I understand…” I started again from a different angle—diplomacy, “I can’t say I’ve always loved the taste, but I love the feelings and memories that the taste of rhubarb bring to mind.” This thought had never occurred to me, but suddenly seemed honestly persuasive.
“Sometimes we confuse emotional connection to food for objective taste of food. Rhubarb is the taste of early summer in my grandmother’s back yard, the sprinkler, eating fruit snacks and drinking a juice box on the step next to the flowering chive patch and peonies—that is an amazing flavor to experience.”
Al and Wilma smiled and could, at least, connect with me on this. Her eyes stared off into the past and I wondered what delicacies and memories of the warm Mississippi Delta she recalled.
To be clear, rhubarb is actually a vegetable rather than a fruit, but more importantly a perennial harbinger of the abundant summer ahead. In Minnesota, it’s kin are radishes, salad greens, watercress, morel mushrooms, and fiddleheads—they are not the sweet Nante carrots, candy cane beets, and cherry tomatoes of September but they do inspire a grateful adoration, a surprised, “Thank God you came! I was getting worried spring would never make it.”
This recipe is dedicated to my dear friend Veronika in Berlin who once made me a rhubarb cake in May and froze it until we could eat it together in September. She is wild about rhubarb and if a menu even hints at the rhuby fruit she will order it.
Minnesota Rhubarb Pie
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups butter cold and in small cubes
1 tbsp ice water
3 1/2 cups rhubarb cut in small pieces
1 zest of lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple sugar or regular sugar
2 tbsp tapioca starch
In a food processor combine dry ingredients for crust and mix well. Add butter and pulse until dough begins to form pea-sized crumbles. Turn into a mixing bowl and sprinkle with water. Gently fold and press dough until it forms a ball. Cut ball in half, form into a disk and wrap in two pieces of plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients for the filling with the exception of the tapioca starch. Mix with a spoon until rhubarb is coated evenly in sugar and allow to sit for 45 minutes to macerate.
Preheat oven to 425ºF. Take one half of dough from the fridge and roll it out into a disk a little less than a 1/4 inch thick. Drape into a 9 inch cake pan and cut edges just at the point that they come past the sides of the pan. With aluminum foil pressed gently against the bottom of the crust and against the walls fill the bottom of the aluminum lining with pennies or rice and bake. After 10 minutes take the foil lining out and bake for 5 more minutes until the crust is pale. Take crust out of the oven and allow to cool for a moment.
Add tapioca starch to pie filling, mix well and pour into shell.
Roll out the second crust to less than a 1/4 inch thick and cut into strips and create a lattice on top of the pie crust. Tuck the edges of the strips behind the shell crust. Brush with milk.
Bake pie at 425º for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350º and continue to bake for 35-40 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and top crust is golden brown. If edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil. Allow pie to cool for at least one hour. With a plate on top of the pie, quickly and gently turn it upside down. Take off the cake pan and quickly turn it back onto a second plate or cake stand. Be sure not to crush the pie with the second turn. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.