I haven't always thought of rhubarb as something special. It was a flavor that had to grow on me, but now I think it's second-piece worthy. Sometime ago, I began taking little ribbons of pastry and letting them fall on top of the pie, brushing them with egg wash and sprinkling on the sugar, thus my ribbon-topped pie. I'm looking forward to fresh-picked Oklahoma rhubarb coming to the farmer's market soon.
My husband thinks I need more practice making pie, and he has generously offered to take care of all that extra pie I will have on hand until I get it perfect. I have counter-offered to drive him to the gym on a regular basis or at least walk a mile or two for each piece of pie. So far, I have made just one rhubarb ribbon pie.
My grandmother had plenty of rhubarb in her backyard garden so it was the pie she made most often in the spring. I was reluctant about rhubarb growing up. I thought it had a weird twang to it, and its pale pink color just wasn't as pretty as the cherry pies my mother made. I was convinced it wasn't as sweet either. Both my mother and grandmother insisted the rhubarb had more sugar, but I had my doubts.
By the time I became pie obsessed, I gave rhubarb another try. I was probably intrigued by those beautiful red stalks that would bubble into pink perfection. The tangy-sweet flavor offers natural balance. I think now it is the tangy part that makes the rhubarb flavor so appealing.
Over the years of making the pie, I have experimented with ways to bring out that natural tangy taste that is so characteristic of rhubarb: lowering the sugar and adjusting the spices even adding a bit of cream or half and half to the rhubarb filling at times. I like the little spark of flavor with the addition of orange zest and a bit of fresh squeezed orange juice. Recently, I used the zest and juice of two clementines, which was just right for filling my 9-inch pie shell.
I always include ginger as it is a favorite flavor of mine. You can also stir an equivalent sugar amount of strawberry or raspberry jam into the filling with sliced rhubarb. If you are harvesting your own rhubarb be sure to cut away any leafy growth as the leaves of rhubarb are actually poisonous.
Before the pastry ribbons, I used a crumb topping for rhubarb pie. Laced with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, the topper was a great way to add some crunchy cinnamon sweetness to the slightly tangy rhubarb filling that bubbled up through the crumbs as it baked. Yum.
Plant your own
It is also a great time to plant your own for pies next year. I try to plant some each year to keep adding to the crop. In northern Oklahoma, I've noticed rhubarb works best on the south or east side of a building or structure where it is slightly protected. It grows from root stock or crowns that are available from a grower, mail order sources or your local nursery.
Start with a deep trench or hole (18 inches or more to accommodate rhubarb root stock).
Refill partially with a mixture of well-rotted manure or compost and the removed soil. Add the crowns or root stock and fill with remaining soil compost mixture. Water well and add mulch once sprouts appear.
Rhubarb will return each year but it needs a bit of water through the winter to help roots retain their moisture. It loves mulch to help keep the soil moist and a side dressing of compost in mid summer and fall to maintain healthy plants.
This yummy pie is a great way to celebrate the first rhubarb of spring. If you like the strawberry rhubarb combination, a half cup of strawberry jam can be substituted for a half cup of the sugar in the filling.
Sherrel's Oklahoma Rhubarb Ribbon Pie
¾ to 1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
4 to 5 cups sliced rhubarb (3/8 to ½-inch thick)
Zest and juice of 1 orange or 2 tangerines or clementines
¼ cup cream or milk
Additional sugar for dusting egg washed pastry (turbinado sugar if available)
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place filling in prepared crust. Make egg wash beating yolk and cream or milk together. Brush edges of prepared crust with wash. Keep prepared pie shell in freezer and do not add filling until pastry ribbons are ready.
• Roll out pastry for ribbon top. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar before cutting ribbons. Cut strips or ribbons 7/8 to 1-inch wide using a rolling pastry cutter if available.
• Place filling in prepared crust. Wind ribbons around the top of the filling in ribbon style.
• Sprinkle additional sugar over outside edge of prepared pie shell if desired.
• Bake in preheated oven turning down to 375 after 15 minutes then baking 25 to 30 minutes until filling begins to bubble and crust is golden.
• Sherrel's pretty pie making tip: Place pie on middle oven rack centered on pizza stone that has been preheated with the oven. This helps fully cook the bottom crust while helping protect the edge of the piecrust. If crust browns too quickly use a long strip of foil to make a necklace or collar around the edge of the pie. Cool slightly before cutting if you can.