Wednesday May 29, 2013 | 06:13 AM

Rhubarb is still the star choicee of  spring foods at farmers'  markets. And until its popular pairing of strawberries are in the markets rhubarb does very well on  its own.

In fact I’ve never been an ardent fan of rhubarb, but I’ve rediscovered this herbaceous plant so I'm always on the lookout for different recipes, and now I can't get enough of it. 

In preparing rhubarb for pie and most other uses, cut off the top and bottom stems, cut down the middle lengthwise and then cut into half-inch or larger pieces

One that I came across recently was for a rhubarb custard pie.  Food historian Sandy Oliver has one in her excellent book, Maine Food, and I stumbled on another one that was nearly identical to Sandy’s in Ronald Johnson’s tome, American Table.  By the way, look for this book because it’s loaded with incredible recipes of regional American cooking--from Southwestern tacos to Georgia peach barbecue sauce.

 

The cut rhubarb can be done in advance, put in a  covered bowl and refrigerated until needed

The recipe that I offer here is a tweaked version from both sources. For the pastry, I've included an excellent method for short crust that uses mostly butter and a small amount of fresh lard, which lightens up the pastry enormously, giving it incredible flakiness and buttery flavor.  You can buy freshly prepared lard (not hydrogenated as you would find on supermarket shelves) at Rosemont Market at its Brighton Ave. location and occasionally from Maine-ly Chicken’s stand at the Portland Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

Rhubarb Cream Pie
Servings: 8

Filling
3 cups rhubarb sliced in ½ inch pieces
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
Big pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cardamom
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon additional butter cut into pats
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Cut each stalk in half lengthwise (about 4 stalks) and then slice on the diagonal into ½-inch or slightly thicker slices and put in a small mixing bowl. 

Meanwhile mix together in a large mixing bowl the sugar, flour, spices, melted butter and beaten eggs until mixture is mostly creamy. Stir in the milk until thoroughly smooth.  Fold in the rhubarb.  Set aside while you make the pastry.

Give the filling a good stir before adding it to the prepared pastry shell


Pastry
Enough for a double crust pie

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, put in the freezer for 5 minutes
1 ounce leaf lard (2 tablespoons), cut into cubes, put in the freezer with the butter for 5 minutes
About ½ cup ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.

Scatter the butter and lard over the flour mixture and pulse 8 to 10 times until the mixture forms into pieces the size of small peas.  Add the water gradually, pulsing after each addition and then give it a final processing for a few seconds until the mixture just barely holds together; it should be very moderately moist.  If not add a few drops more water. 

Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and form the dough into two equal halves  about 11 ounces each in weight) and shape into disks; wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.  Roll out one of the pastry rounds on a well-floured work surface to fit into an 8- to 9-inch pie plate.  Trim the edges and fold the remaining overhang underneath.  Give the filling a few stirs and then and add to the pie dish.  Cut the 1 tabelspoon butter into pats and scatter over the filling.  Set aside.

For the other dough, roll it out to a rectangle about 8 by 14 inches and cut into 1-inch wide strips to make a lattice top.  Place these in an alternating pattern over and under each other to form the lattice grid.  Pinch the ends of the dough to make a decorative border.  Lightly brush the top with an egg wash of 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk or cream beaten well. 

Place the dish on a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 35 to 40 minutes or  until the top is nicely brown and the mixture is bubbly. 

Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle on some confectioner’s sugar shaken through a sieve.  Let the pie cool to room temperature before serving.  The pie can be stored for several days in the refrigerator.

This has become one of my favorite pies and the method lends itself to using cherries, peaches, apples and other fruits in the cream filling

 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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