After an early start to the week of sun and warm, proving our month of March 2014 "came in like a lion and went out like a lamb," it's back to cold and rainy to welcome April, which will hopefully "bring May's flowers."
And at our family farm, not only are there blooming bulb flower beds, but also plenty of asparagus and rhubarb.
Reader Stella Richardson of Valparaiso wrote me a letter last week with the following request: "Dear Phil: Some time ago, you ran a recipe for your mom Peggy's homemade Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie in your newspaper column. Along the way, I have lost my copy of the recipe. Will you please mail me a copy of it? Your mom's pie recipe was so good!, Thanks a lot! - Stella"
After calling Stella, she was happy to get a reminder that her copy of the recipe wasn't as lost as she feared, since the original column and recipe, first published in May 2008, is included in her copy of my last cookbook "Further From the Farm" in 2010.
Rhubarb, and its tart flavor, remains a favorite find at our farm. All three of my previously published cookbooks include various other rhubarb recipes as well, ranging from Aunt Ruby's Rhubarb Crisp to Crumb-Topped Rhubarb Pie and a wonderful, very old recipe for a delicious golden meringue-topped Rhubarb Torte.
I have never ran my mom's traditional classic rhubarb pie recipe, so I decided this would be a great week to do so. There's a reason to celebrate that spring's warmer weather is on the way after we've been spotting tiny unfolding leaves and stalks of rhubarb finally emerging in our garden patch.
Over the years, I have written about my mother cutting and sharing our rhubarb with our good family church friend Peggy Stonebraker, from the neighboring town of Wheatfield. A classmate chum of my dad's sister, my Auntie Lottie, Mrs. Stonebraker passed away at age 91 last week. Her husband Jim had passed on in 1993. Though she had been ill in recent years, Peggy (whose real name is Lucille) always had a smile. She is also the older sister of our retired farm friend Gerry Spenner, the famed, favorite strawberry farm I worked at for 10 years during my youth under his tutelage, as well as lots of guidance from his wife Dee. (It was also nice to see their daughter Julie, who was in my older sister Pam's class in high school, at Saturday's funeral mass.)
Mrs. Stonebraker's son Doug, who lives with his family in Wanatah, has told me often how much his mother enjoyed reading my columns and cookbooks, the latter of which also include some of her shared recipes. Today's rhubarb pie recipe is printed in her honor.
Classic Rhubarb Pie
2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup shortening or lard
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
3 cups unpeeled rhubarb, diced
1 cup while granulated sugar
1 egg white, beaten
1 complete egg, beaten plus remaining yolk
2 tablespoons flour
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon butter
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 400 degrees. To make crust, begin by sifting flour and salt together into a bowl. Cut in shortening/lard with pastry blender or two knives, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Continue cutting until particles start to cling together in little balls about the size of peas. Mark mixture off into thirds with fork. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of water on one of the parts and quickly work into dough until it clings together when pressed with fingers. It should not be wet or sticky. Repeat with remaining two portions, always trying to use as little water as possible. Place dough on wax paper and cup with hands to form a wrapped ball. Chill for 10-15 minutes, before rolling out top and bottom 9-inch pie crusts between two pieces of waxed paper. Line an ungreased 9-inch pie pan with one crust and brush lightly with the beaten egg white. In a medium bowl, mix sugar, flour, rhubarb, beaten egg and remaining egg yolk and lemon juice. Pour filling into pie crust. Dot berry filling with butter. Moisten edge of pastry with water and cover with remaining crust. Trim excess and press edges together with a fork. Create slits in top crust for ventilation. Brush with any remaining egg white. Cover edge of pie crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent over-baking. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until brown in hot oven. Makes 8 servings.