One particular pie stood out. The fruit came from my father’s annual garden, along with the early asparagus which was another product of a rhizome plant. These popped up and grew as early as mid April, making it a sure bet for spring time. I am talking about the rhubarb, which traces its cultivation back thousands of years. The Chinese prized its root ball and stalks for medicinal qualities. Rhubarb roots are harvested in the fall from plants that are at least six years old. The roots are then dried for later use. The root was used in various preparations for use as an anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aspirant, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, general tonic . My father was an avid reader and world traveler, and he may have known all of this. But there was only one thing on his mind when he came into the house triumphantly carrying the earliest stalks of this remarkable plant. PIE!
Today rhubarb is widely grown in hot houses year around. One rhizome can yield as many as three harvests per year. It isn’t a very popular pie filling here in Southeast Asia, but then pie is not particularly a popular dish except in kitchens that see western baking. Still, during a recent visit to Singapore, a friend of ours purchased some for us from a local market after I spoke about it the night before at dinner. Carefully wrapping the fruit and carrying them back on her return flight to Kuala Lumpur, Quaypo made sure the treasure was secured. In the meantime, I stayed on to finish my work, and almost forgot about the rhubarb until my own return a few days later. As soon as Quaypo reminded me I was on it. I chose to mix some strawberries into the filling I made, and wisely recruited Quaypo to make her crust as she has the same golden fingers for pie crust that my mother had, even though she is handicapped by the out of favor lard, in favor of a vegetable based alternate. My father loved the sharp tartness of a full rhubarb pie, but I favor a milder blend. The result was far better than I expected. The very tart rhubarb stewed up plump and juicy, and was balanced by the less tart strawberries and the sugar in the recipe. The pastry was typical of Quaypo’s talents. The memories of those pies of my youth were, well…priceless, which is why I am sharing them with you.
1 1/4 c Sugar
1/8 ts Salt
1/3 c Flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 ts vanilla extract or 1 pod scraped
2 c Fresh strawberries
2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
3 T cold butter
1 T Coarse sugar
Pastry for 2-crust pie
Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined 9 inch pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Drape top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on coarse sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. “Collar the edge of the pie with aluminum foil. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.