Rhubarb Custard Pie – A Recipe to be Reckoned With
Though I do say so myself, I make a mean rhubarb pie: elegantly plain, in the classic flaky crust plus sweetened fruit fashion; lily-painted, as in Deep Dish Rhubarb Peach Pie, and mixed with black cherry jam , as an easy rhubarb crostata that’s not really pie but is really tasty (and very nearly instant).
The pie that makes people say “ I thought I hated rhubarb, but this is wonderful!” is Carol’s Mother’s Deep Dish Rhubarb Custard Pie.
Both title and ingredients may raise warning flags to experienced cooks: rhubarb and custard sound like curdled filling just waiting to happen; the custard itself contains enough flour to suggest the result might be more than a tad stodgy. Fear not.
The custard is soft and smooth, and although this pie is far from light, that’s just because it’s big; the flour has nothing to do with it.
All credit goes to my friend Carol – the wine colored dahlia Carol, not the Heath Bar Cookie one. When she sent me the recipe, back in 1992, she said: “This is straight out of my mother’s copy of the Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook (Simon and Schuster, 1954). I just doubled all of the ingredients…” so, with credit where due, Carol’s transmission of
Carol’s Mother’s Betty Furness’ Westinghouse Cookbook Deep Dish Rhubarb Custard Pie
Place in a 9 inch pie-plate (deep dish variety) pastry for a 1-crust pie. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. The baking time is 50-60 minutes (I’ve found it to be closer to 60 than 50).
Fill the pastry lined plate with 6 C. cut rhubarb. Over this, pour the following mixture: 4 beaten eggs, 4 T. milk, 2.5 C. sugar (white or brown as you like), 6 T. flour, ½ t. salt, ½ t.nutmeg. Then dot with 2 T. butter.
You can add a lattice top, but if you have pretty strawberry rhubarb, you really don’t need that sort of camouflage.
Cooks’ Notes (slightly updated 5/18/12):
Update part: I’ve been making this pie for years, using our home grown rhubarb and eggs from the farmers market. But in response to a comment about trouble with the custard setting up, I tried using commercial red rhubarb and supermarket eggs (2 from a Large carton, 2 from an Extra Large). The custard set up fine but the pie was too sweet even for Bill.
Thus a reminder that fruit flavor varies widely and that the general consumer preference is for sweetness uber alles, with color coming in a close second. Our old fashioned rhubarb is mostly green, with just a little pink, and authoritatively sour as well as very flavorful. The commercial rhubarb was very pretty, only slightly sour … and very nearly tasteless, I’m sorry to report.
1. (Pastry recipe here if needed) The deep dish must be very deep, and it pays to build up the pastry rim to add a bit more height. Even then there may be a bit of custard left over, depending on your pan and how you measure the rhubarb. Stop pouring a bit short of the top or you’ll have custard all over the oven.
2. Size of rhubarb slices isn’t critical, but they should be somewhere around ½ to ¾ inch wide.
3. Custard is smoothest and least inclined to puff over if you mix the dry ingredients first, then stir in the lightly beaten eggs and milk. Egg size isn’t critical, but the recipe was almost surely developed when commercial eggs were routinely smaller than they are now. “Large “and “Extra Large ” both work fine, but if yours are any bigger it won’t hurt to add another tablespoon of flour. A bit more flour (or an extra egg yolk) is also wise if the warning below leads you to use less sugar.
Brown sugar adds both color and flavor, enriching the experience; the pie is prettier and clearer-tasting with white. Warning: this custard is very sweet, suitable for old fashioned rhubarb (which is probably what was being used in the 1950s). Don’t hesitate to cut back a half cup or so – or add some lemon juice – if a taste proves the rhubarb you have is on the sweet side.
4. I like having the lattice, not so much for decoration as because additional pastry makes a better balanced pie.
5. This bakes so long the bottom crust isn’t as soggy as you might fear, but it will be crisper if you use a baking stone as described in the recipe for Maple Walnut Pie (which is very good served frozen, btw, should you be looking for an excuse to make one for summer consumption).
6. If you do have extra custard, see it as a bonus. Pour it into a greased dish that it will fill halfway, add some more rhubarb and put the leftover pastry (lattice always leaves a little) around the edge and over the top. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the dish, and keep the little pudding at home when you take the pie to the party.