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).


lattice top rhubarb pie

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.

slice of rhubarb custard pie

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.

rhubarb and ricotta custard

This little pudding also includes a few lumps of ricotta - there wasn't that much leftover custard and I wanted to have enough for both of us.

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  • Tatiana Said,

    You know this is serendipity, I was JUST looking for a rhubarb dessert to make. Don’t know why, just felt like a seasonal treat. So, I’ll be trying this out in the next three weeks and I’ll keep you posted on the results.

  • Over here at RA, we can vouch for OTT (as in over the top) deliciousness of this pie. The combination of rhubarb and custard is unbeatable–and that crust, oh that crust!

  • Ali Said,

    I will have to try this, as I have rhubarb coming out my ears, but am not much of a fan. Thanks!

  • This looks wonderful. It’s amazing how simple ingredients can yeild such a treat. We always have a lot of Rhubarb and it’s nice to find a different recipe. Most of our pies are the ones that you describe-Rhubarb & Sugar. The addition of a custard is a surprise!

  • Vee Said,

    Darn! Don’t I wish the rhubarb was doing well enough to be harvested this year. Wonder how my son’s rhubarb is doing…

  • This is one of my favorite pies and your recipe is a little different than mine, so I’m eager to try it. Nice combo, fruit, custard and crust. Nice lattice work!

  • Ali Said,

    I made this Saturday, using brown sugar. It did not set up completely before the crust was too brown, but it was amazing nonetheless. Finally, a rhubarb recipe I can love! Thanks!

    Needless to say, you’re welcome, Ali! Though of course I’m sorry to hear the custard was recalcitrant. It never does get as firm as the custard in classic custard pie, but it should have been cohesive enough to stay in the slice when chilled. Right now, I mostly hope your rhubarb is still producing enough for you to play with. Ours is over for this year and I’m missing it exceedingly. LL

  • My mother made a rhubarb custard pie same recipe only we put a meringue on top after baking. I lost the recipe and found yours to be the same except for the meringue.

  • Note: She at times crushed soda crackers for thickening instead of flour. VERY GOOD.

  • louise feak Said,

    nice pie ate some at your house pat many moons ago still think of you every day love and prayers Lou and her lost friend

  • Julie Said,

    Sounds and looks amazing!!….and that being said after just snarfing down 2 huge helpings of strawberry shortcake! 🙂 Pass the pie!

  • Mary Ann Mcnally Said,

    Still in the oven, custard is like soup after 1 hour 20 minutes at 400. Just bumped the oven to 425 and the crust is dark brown. Too much sugar in this recipe or not enough flour?

    Hi Mary Ann, and many thanks for bringing your problem to my attention. To address it, I followed the recipe using commercial ingredients, just in case my home-grown/non-standard ones were at fault, and have updated the recipe to reflect my results.

    Vexingly, the custard was fine, if anything firmer than usual. So I’m at a loss. Extra juicy rhubarb could be to blame, in which case more flour would indeed be the way to fix it.

  • Tami Said,

    Just had a slice of this wonderful pie compliments of my sister-in-law Karen. It was AMAZING! Treat yourself and your family – make it, now!

    • Gail G Said,

      I made one last night and not only did it taste wonderful, it looked amazing! I only used 1 1/4 c white sugar, otherwise I followed your recipe. After 1 hour it was not altogether set so I lowered the temp to 325 and left it in for another 10 minutes. I have had trouble with rhubarb recipes when I used frozen instead of fresh.

  • Claire Said,

    I made this pie last night for my family and it was awesome, not sure if Brown sugar is slightly different out here or not but mine was more like a rhubarb and caramel tart than a custard.

    I wold be interested in trying to make it more custardy than caramel-y if you get my drift.

    It was awesome anyway ….oh and the sour cream pastry was easy easy easy and perfect. THe most delicious pastry I have ever tasted..
    Thanks so much

    Glad you liked the recipes, Claire, and sorry I wasn’t more emphatic about brown sugar adding its own flavor and color. White sugar should give you the more custardy taste you’re after, just do be sure to heed all the warnings about possible over sweetness. Brown sugar of all kinds – and you’re right, there are many – measures differently from white and also has a slightly acid quality, so desserts made with it are often (marginally) less sweet tasting than they would be if made with white sugar.

  • Denise Said,

    Today was rainy, a little gloomy really – but the rhubarb was waist high and waiting to be pulled – so I went on a hunt for unique recipes. Banana rhubarb met with a “pretty good”, peach rhubarb with “it would be good jam” but your rhubarb custard….thumbs up all around the table (so I am glad I made two!)

    Hi Denise – I’m happy about the thumbs up, of course (will tell Carol her mom is continuing to score). Also in awe of your industry – 4 pies!- and investigative spirit. Somehow can’t imagine banana rhubarb. Was it a riff on banana cream? Admittedly, I’m not the world’s biggest banana fan, but all I keep thinking is that you must be a demon crust-maker.

  • LYNN PARKE Said,

    This recipe is almost identical to one my wifes grandmother brought with her from Manistique when she moved to Idaho in 1915. The only modification as you have indicated has been to reduce the sugar to compliment the less sour cherry rhubarb. Her recipe called for a 350 degree oven, not supriseing in the day of cold fired stoves. I baked a pie today at the 400 temp. I liked the results much better.

    Fascinating, Lynn – You’re reporting the earliest example of this recipe we’ve seen. Please tell us: where is Manistique?

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