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~ Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie ~

IMG_5307This is an heirloom recipe in honor of Father's Day.  The green-stalked rhubarb we grow in our vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden.  It's green, which makes my rhubarb pie different than most others.  It's bold and sassy in a subtle, sexy way.  It's a humbling pie I serve to people who aren't easily impressed.

There is a certain satisfaction in teaching people how to love food made from a misunderstood ingredient.  Rhubarb is one such ingredient.  Sometimes referred to as "the pie vegetable", if you have never tasted a rhubarb-ginger chutney on your turkey sandwich, a rhubarb-raspberry sauce on your seared duck breast, or, sipped a glass of homemade rhubarb wine with old friends "out back" in your gazebo, please don't wrinkle up your nose at the mention of "rhubarb".

I love the pucker-up experience that rhubarb gives me, and, while I understand why people often pair it with strawberries (they do play very well together), in my opinion, like the tart apple or the sour cherry, rhubarb requires no distractions.  I prefer my rhubarb pie unadulterated and that includes NOT adding too much sugar (too much sugar is the #1 mistake novices make).

IMG_5055I had my first rhubarb experience at age 10.  How old were you?

Once a week, while my mom would go to the hairdresser, she would remind my brother and I to "get off the school bus at Agnes's house" and wait for her there.  Agnes was one of my mom's closest friends and as far as I was concerned she was the June Cleaver of our neighborhood. She was a "fussy" (particular) stay-at-hom-mom actively involved with her Garden and Bridge clubs.  She had two sons about the same age as Wally and the Beave, named Bernie and Johnny.  Johnny was my brother's age, and, when the two of them got together to play, there was always an escapade that ended in a mini-tragedy or goofy argument.  Boys will be boys.

6a0120a8551282970b01538e9a6278970bI enjoyed hanging out in Agnes' kitchen for an hour or two every week, and, I'm pretty sure she enjoyed having me, a "fussy" little girl there too.  Agnes truly had a green thumb.  Her dining room window was lined with gorgeous African violets, plus, a small vegetable garden that produced lots of vegetables, including rhubarb.  One afternoon she showed me how to cut the stalks from this unruly looking plant, trim off the inedible leaves, discard the woody ends, then announced:  "Now we're going to bake the most delicious pie!"  I looked at her and quizzically asked, "we're going to make a pie from celery?"  "No dear, this is rhubarb.  A lot of people think they don't like it, but they just don't know how to cook it.  I'm going to show you my secret way", she answered.  Rhubarb in hand, into the house we two trotted.  I couldn't wait to get myself perched at her kitchen counter to participate in this covert culinary action.

Is there a difference between green and red stalked rhubarb?  No.  They are both perfectly ripe and ready to be cooked.

The color of rhubarb is not related to its suitability for cooking, however, the really red rhubarb sold in the grocery store, unless marked "locally grown" is grown in hot houses.  I find this type of rhubarb to be a bit dry and subdued in flavor.  Outdoor varietes can vary from red, speckled with red, light pink or simply green (like mine).  Green stalked rhubarb is more robust (tart) and produces a higher yield, but, red is sure more popular with consumers.  I grew up eating green rhubarb and didn't realize it came in red until I was an adult and saw it in a store.  The rhubarb we grow in our vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden.  Agnes's rhubarb was green too.  It isn't easy being green.

IMG_5071For my rhubarb pie filling and a bit about my rhubarb pie filling:  This, just like Agnes's, is a cooked filling, which I particularly like for rhubarb pie.  The reason is two-fold.  First, when used uncooked in a pie, rhubarb can be tricky.  Undercook the pie a bit and the rhubarb is crunchy, overcook it a bit too much and it is mushy.  Cooking the pie filling on the stovetop allows me to control the texture and the pie comes out perfect every time.  Second, on days like today (when I have 8 pounds of rhubarb on my kitchen counter), I can make one big batch (in an 8-quart stockpot), divide it into 4 portions and freeze it.  We can enjoy rhubarb pie for Thanksgiving too.

2  pounds cleaned and trummed rhubarb, cut into 1" pieces

3/4  cup water + 2-4 more tablespoons, only if necessary (Note:  rhubarb contains and will continue to exude water as it cooks so don't be inclined to add more water unless it is necessary.)

4  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2  cup sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

IMG_5122For the streusel topping and a bit about streusel topping:  "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, but not uncommon for nuts, oats or spices to be added.  This is my favorite blend, especially for tart pies (like apple, cherry or rhubarb), where sweetness, rather than a mundane top crust, is a welcome addition.

4  tablespoons salted butter, slightly softened, not at room temperature (Note:  Yes, I like salted butter better than unsalted butter when making streusel pie toppings in general.)

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats, not quick-cooking or instant

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the pie pastry:

1  recipe for Pate Brisee, or your favorite pie pastry recipe, rolled, fitted into a 9" pie dish, decoratively edged, lightly blind-baked and fully-cooled

6a0120a8551282970b01630497ead9970dNote:  Pate brisee is the French term for "short pastry" used for both sweet and savory crusts, like pies and quiches.  Blind-baked or bake blind is the English term for baking a pie shell before it is filled.  In the case of today's pie, I've blind baked the pastry in a 425 degree oven until the rim of the crust is just set and barely browned, or not yet brown at all, about 3 minutes.  Remove the pie chains (or pie weights) and parchment (or foil) from the pastry shell, return it to the oven for 3 more minutes, no longer, until the bottom is just set to the touch and barely browned:

6a0120a8551282970b0176172f90f5970cYou can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, in Categories 6, 15 or 22.

For full instructions on ~ How to: Blind Bake a Pastry Shell ~, click into Categories 6 or 15.

It's really easy to make your own pie pastry.  It takes less than 5 minutes in the food processor, and, you can make several in advance.  I freeze them flat, layered between sheets of parchment.  Just thaw and use. How convenient is that.

IMG_5078 IMG_5091 IMG_5096 IMG_5107~Steps 1, 2, 3 & 4.  Prep the rhubarb as directed, placing it in a 4-quart stockpot as you work. Add the water, flour, sugar, tapioca, salt and vanilla extract.  Stir to roughly combine.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the temperature to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the rhubarb is just tender and a thick pie filling has formed, about 6-8 minutes.  If necessary, add additional water, by the tablespoonful, to keep the mixture from scorching.  Do not overcook.  The rhubarb should not be cooked through to the center or mushy.

IMG_5116~ Step 5.  Remove pie filling from heat, cover and set aside until slightly-warm or room temperature, about 2-3 hours.  The pie filling will thicken as it cools.  Note:  If you are making a big batch, now is the time to portion and freeze it.

IMG_5155Spoon the cooled pie filling into the cooled pie crust.

IMG_5140 IMG_5129~ Step 6.  To prepare the streusel topping, in a large bowl, place butter, sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon.

Using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the ingredients until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs.  

IMG_5163 IMG_5156~ Step 7. Spoon and evenly distribute all of the streusel topping over the pie filling.

~ Step 8.  Bake pie on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes, or, until topping is lightly browned and juices are just starting to bubble, not oozing, around the sides.  Do not overbake this pie!

IMG_5210 IMG_5219Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, to cool completely, prior to slicing and serving.  

IMG_5207Note: Waiting is hard to do, but I actually like to let this pie sit for 6-8 hours or overnight (uncovered) prior to slicing.

It's not easy being green -- but it sure is delicious!

IMG_5336This is all I have to say on the subject of rhubarb pie...

IMG_5400... because my mouth is full.  But I do hope you'll try it my way!

IMG_5407Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon; pastry blender; paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b01538fe3093e970bCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite Summertime pies, which, in my opinion, just like rhubarb pie, tastes best with a streusel topping, my recipe for ~ I Can't Lie, this is Real Sour-Cherry Streusel Pie ~ can be found in Category 6!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 


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