I promised a custard pie this month. The blues purists will be horrified, but my blues connection is Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie,” in all its sexual innuendo-laden glory. In creating it, they reached back to wonderful Delta tunes like Sleepy John Estes’ “Drop Down Mama,” Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some of Your Pie.”
Like Led Zeppelin, I added something to the mix. In my case, it’s rhubarb. And the custard effect results from the combination of eggs, sugar, and rhubarb juices, rather than from eggs and milk.
When my husband was growing up, his family had a rhubarb plant in their yard, and one of his earliest cooking experiments was rhubarb pie. Now rhubarb is hard to find. We’ve tried several times to grow it but it doesn’t thrive in a yard overshadowed by huge trees.
Most grocery stores ignore it these days. Who’d want rhubarb when you can buy any fruit or vegetable you want all year round? In earlier times, rhubarb would have been appreciated as one of the first fresh growing things available in the spring.
I tracked mine down at the fancy Whole Foods store, an hour round trip for me because of New Jersey traffic, and $5.95 a pound!
It’s the standard crust we’ve used before so I’m recycling the instructions from earlier pies:
1 cup sifted flour
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/6 cup cold water
1-1/4 cup sifted flour
1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening
1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt
1/6 cup cold water + extra
I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.
Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.
Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle it with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.
When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.
If you want to speed things up, you can use a prepared crust. I’ve discovered that the frozen crusts that come in their own little aluminum pie pans work very well. They are surprisingly flaky, and the only giveaway that they are not home-made is that the decorative edge is a bit too regular. I’ve also tried the prepared crusts that are sold in the refrigerator case, already shaped to go into your own pie pan and then curled up into long rolls that you unroll. Those are not so good.
3 beaten eggs
1 ½ cups of sugar
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
4 cups of rhubarb, cut into half-inch chunks
Mix the filling well and spoon it into the prepared crust, smoothing it out evenly. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the custard isn’t runny.
It’s great with vanilla ice cream.
Next month: My childhood strawberry pie