Tag Archives: rhubarb

Almost-summer pleasures

farmersmktLunchSOMETIMES it is refreshing not to cook, but rather to assemble a few choice items together on your plate. Such was this light lunch after a bicycle trip to the local farmers’ market, where we got the fresh snow peas, radishes, cucumber and a loaf of delicious hearty Mountain Rye from Raven Breads. We already had some butter and cheese to complete the late spring/early summer plate. The fresh colors of the peas, cucumber and radishes looked especially attractive, I thought. And it all tasted as fresh and lovely as it looked.

Just in case that lunch seems a little too minimalist, let me assure you that last week I also embraced the late-spring/ almost-summer season more decadently with my usual passion for rhubarb pie. It was  delicious — and all too quickly devoured, before I even thought about getting ice cream to go with it (unnecessary, it turned out).


FOR THIS PIE, I used the top crust only, cutting the scalloped shapes with my biscuit cutter and roughly twisting strips of dough around the rim. Steve said he didn’t even realize there was no bottom crust! (True, you have to scoop it rather than slice it — but trust me, if you are serving any rhubarb-lovers, they won’t mind.)

The filling: 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, scant 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and some fresh orange zest. Dot with one or two tablespoons of butter before putting on the crust.

As to the crust, I used about 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a little salt, into which I cut 7 tablespoons of cold butter, then just enough ice water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to hold the dough together. Refrigerate for half an hour, then roll out on lightly floured parchment paper or pastry cloth and cut into shapes or strips.


MY RHUBARB-LOVE was not quite satiated, but I did find more rhubarb at the farmers’ market, and made a simple rhubarb sauce (again with orange zest). A dollop of that sauce with my yogurt is a more modest, but still satisfying, late-spring pleasure!



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Pie plant season

Just in case you’re lucky enough to have some rhubarb around!


After reading my own post below, well, I just had to make my annual rhubarb pie! It’s really a half-pie, or anyway a top-crust only pie, with a little border too.

toby's kitchen notes

rosyrhubarb Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.

rpie2 To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon…

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A pie for imperfectionists


Despite that recipe you’ve found for “the perfect pie,” it will probably be imperfect — and that’s just the way it should be!

“PIE SHOULDN’T BE PERFECT,” declared an article on making fruit pie that I’d saved from a Bon Appetit magazine.

Aviva and I could  not have agreed more. While we learned a few things from the article (the butter in the crust should be in unevenly sized pieces) wondered over some pieces of advice (a pie should bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees?) and  rejected others (really, the crust does not need that much butter!), the philosophy expressed in that simple line is what really struck home.

Aviva making pie

Aviva visits the Toby Kitchen for a pie-making session!


WE ARE NOT perfectionists, we realized  — and glad of it.

Being an imperfectionist (my new word) means you are content with “good enough,” and not devastated by minor failures in the kitchen or other areas of life.

The Bon Appetit article detailed a finished pie’s characteristics: “The filling will spill out, bits of crust will collapse, and it’s only natural for the fruit to shrink as it bakes, leaving a little gap beneath the top crust.”

And these “imperfections” not only don’t matter, but actually add to the pleasure of  making and eating pie.

“That’s the trouble with cake,” Aviva noted (she has a strong preference for pie over cake). “It’s too perfect.”


The still-warm pie was too juicy to serve it on the fancy plates I’d set out, so we served it in mismatched bowls, with ice cream melting on top. My twisted-lattice crust had become rather skewed and messy, but that didn’t bother us.


Just as the article had predicted, my pie had not yet set properly when we served it to friends a couple hours after taking it from the oven (the article advised waiting at least four hours, and added that pie was even better the day after it was baked. But warm-from-the-oven pie is sooooo good!)

We carved out some fairly sloppy slices and ladled them into mismatched bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We used spoons instead of forks.

No one complained. It was a perfectly delicious imperfect pie and we were all happy.


Here’s the updated recipe. And for you fellow rhubarb-lovers, here’s some history and more on the wonderful pie plant.

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Pie plant season


Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb

Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.


To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

making rhubarb pie

Now roll out a little more than half the pie dough into a circle that overlaps the edges of the pie pan, and ladle in the filling in a mound.

Dot with butter

Dot  the rhubarb with butter

Roll and cut the dough into strips

Roll out the rest of the pie dough and cut into strips. A pasta cutter makes a fancy edge, but is not necessary.

Weave those strips into a lattice top

Weave those strips into a lattice top. My lattice was  a little funky, but who cares? Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle on some sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 or 45 minutes

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 or 45 minutes. Oops, that crust looks pretty dark.

Serve, preferably with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and eat on a late Sunday afternoon. Skip dinner. Perfect.

Serve, preferably with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and eat on a late Sunday afternoon. Skip dinner. Perfect.


See more posts on rhubarb:

Fruit or vegetable?
Return of the rhubarb lover


Filed under baked goods, dessert, fruit, spring

Return of the rhubarb lover

My friend Maggie tends an awesome patch of rhubarb in a canyon near Cashmere, Washington — and last week she was kind enough to let me cut some stalks to take home.

So–how could I resist my favorite sweet of the season: rhubarb pie?

(Never mind that we haven’t really had spring in the Pacific Northwest this year, leading some folks to call this month May-vember.)

Just the two of us were planning to eat the whole pie, so I decided to make a smaller-than-usual version with my trusty little “Wild Plum” aluminum pie pan. I’ve had this since my friend Peggy delivered it to me with a quiche inside after my son Zak was born — and that’s been 32 years ago! (The quiche hit the spot, by the way).

I adjusted the recipe downward, rather imprecisely, for the  8-inch pie pan and it turned out just fine.

I like twisting the lattice crust, but whatever way you do it, it will taste great

We managed to keep the pie around for a whole day after I made it. Now, it’s just a memory. But a very, very good one.

I wrote about my rhubarb pie recipe last spring, with a recipe included, so I’ll  just put my ingredient adjustments below.  And for more appreciations of rhubarb and recipes for less caloric rhubarb pies and rhubarb crisps, check out this post. And this one. There’s also a recipe on the New York Times site for a rhubarb upside-down cake that is highly caloric (read: 2 1/2 sticks of butter). But Cathy made it for some friends this weekend and said it’s easy and delicious. Just don’t tell any weight-conscious friends what’s in it!

Happy rhubarb eating to you!

Ingredients for a smaller rhubarb pie:


  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water


  • 5 cups of  fresh rhubarb, thinly sliced on the diagonal (if your stalks are very wide, cut them vertically before slicing)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small bits
  • 1/2  teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

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By request: the real rhubarb pie

Sometimes you really need the real thing: a buttery crust on the bottom and a lattice top; a filling bursting with rosy red rhubarb and a scent of orange. My readers asked me for the recipe, so here it is.

Pie pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 9 or 10 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons ice water, plus a couple teaspoons of vinegar, combined

Combine flour, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs of irregular sizes (do this quickly so the butter stays cold. . )

Drizzle the ice water/ vinegar over the flour mixture bit by bit,  just until the dough is moistened and comes together as you knead it in the bowl briefly. It will still seem a little dry. Knead the dough only a few times on a work surface (not too long!), then shape into two discs (one slightly larger than the other).  Wrap them in plastic wrap or put in a covered bowl and refrigerate for an hour.

Rhubarb filling:

  • 5 to 6 cups (more if you want a higher pie — the cooked fruit will shrink down) of  fresh rhubarb, thinly sliced on the diagonal (if your stalks are  wide, cut them vertically before slicing)
  • 1 1/4 to  11/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tablespoon demara or sparkling sugar for the top crust
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small bits
  • 1  teaspoon grated orange peel (best from an organic orange)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
    1. Toss together all of the above filling ingredients together in a bowl, except the milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit a few minutes and then stir until the sugar and flour coats the rhubarb pieces.
    2. Roll out one of the pieces into the lower crust to fit your pie pan and drape over the edge; then fill with the rhubarb mixture.
    3. Roll out the other ball of pastry into a wide circle the size of the pie pan and cut across into strips of dough to form a lattice crust. After you put the rhubarb filling in the bottom crust, lay the strips of dough one at a time, weaving over and under to make a lattice. If you want to be fancy, twist the dough gently as you go.
    4. Then take leftover dough and strips around the edge and crimp or pinch together into a nice edge.
    5. Brush the top crust and edges with the milk and sprinkle with sugar. Place the pie pan on a cookie sheet lined with foil (to catch any dripping juices). Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes until done — the rhubarb should be soft and bubbly and the crust should be a deep golden brown. Let cool several hours before serving — or alternatively, serve in a bowl.

Serve with a scoop of ice cream or not. De-licious!

I made another one of those pie-top-only (bottomless?) pies, with the full amount of rhubarb filling. My crust was kind of messy and falling apart, but since you have to eat this pie with a spoon (it’s not possible to slice it!) everything was fine….


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Rhubarb: another appreciation

I’m so in love with rhubarb that I just have to write more about it. Plus, I found a lovely crop of rhubarb in the produce section of my local grocery store, so I am gratefully eating more of it.

One aspect of rhubarb I really appreciate is that it’s one of the few fruits (or vegetables — I’ll get to that in a minute)  that still seems tied to a season.

These days, when you can buy asparagus for Thanksgiving dinner, raspberries at New Years and watermelon before it’s even spring,  it’s rare to find something more-or-less limited to its original season. Maybe  there’s just not enough demand to supply greenhouse rhubarb all year long, but in any case, limited availability only heightens rhubarb’s appeal.

It’s an especially welcome sight here in the Pacific Northwest, especially as California’s navel oranges season is winding down, and it’s still too early for local berries.

Well, what is rhubarb after all —  fruit or vegetable?

It all depends. Botanically it’s a vegetable. But in 1947, the U.S. Customs Court at Buffalo, NY., ruled that rhubarb was a fruit, since that’s how it’s usually eaten.

The Oxford Companion to Food tells us that the plant is native to Asia, and thrived in the cold climates of Mongolia, Siberia and the vicinity of the Himalayas. It was used medicinally in ancient Greece, Rome and China, and the 12th century Jewish Egyptian physician, Ibn Jumay, wrote a treatise on its medicinal uses.

The rhubarb plant arrived in Europe around the 14th century, but it took a few more centuries before it was commonly used in cooking — mainly with sugar added. Then there were rhubarb tarts, with or without custard, rhubarb crisps and crumbles, and rhubarb fools ( rhubarb puree with sweetened whipped cream, layered like a parfait, resulting in  a very pretty sight). And rhubarb sauces, compotes and jams.

Not all rhubarb dishes are sweet. There’s a classic Persian recipe for lamb with a rhubarb-mint sauce.  And I’ve read that in Poland, rhubarb is cooked with potatoes. Italians make a rhubarb aperitif called rabarbaro that has low alcohol content and is considered a health drink. Anyone tried any of these?

After my last rhubarb post, Paula Butturini sent me a suggestion about adding  a teaspoon or so of finely chopped fresh rosemary to rhubarb as it cooks. “You don’t actually taste the rosemary, but it somehow deepens the flavor,” she wrote. I tried it in a batch of stewed rhubarb (which is delicious as a sauce for yogurt or ice cream or served atop the steel-cut oats) and it’s true. Thanks, Paula. Other classic flavors that complement rhubarb are orange zest and ginger.

Mark Bittman had a nice recipe for rhubarb crisp the other day (and also for rhubarb chutney). Since I’d already made my must-have rhubarb pie of the season, I thought I’d bake a crisp. It’s so easy to make any kind of fruit crisp — just take a little butter and rub in some flour and brown sugar, flavor with cinnamon or other spices, and work in some rolled oats–and nuts, if you like. Rhubarb doesn’t need much sugar in this case, because the topping is sweet.

There was just one problem — I was dining solo and knew I’d eat way too much of a delicious crisp if I made a whole pan. So I confined myself to a miniature version in a small baking dish.

Here's the crisp before I put it in the oven

For each ramekin or one-size serving, slice thinly two stalks of rhubarb with just a couple teaspoons of sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and some grated orange peel and put in the bottom of the dish.

Make the topping starting with about a little under a tablespoon of butter (I’m sorry, but I just don’t measure these. Probably about 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour and 3 or 4 tablespoons brown sugar, as much cinnamon as you like and a couple tablespoons of oats) You really don’t need a food processor — just rub this mixture together with your fingers until it resembles crumbs and sprinkle it atop the rhubarb. That’s it.

Bake at 350 degrees until the rhubarb is soft and the crisp is….crisp.

And after it came out of the oven -- though it didn't last long!

It’s said that people especially love rhubarb in Zurich, where everyone grows it in their family garden. I was very happy to find a delightful blog called My Kugelhopf by Kerrin Rousset, a French-speaking New Yorker who lives in Zurich. She has recipes for rhubarb-berry crumble and rhubarb-roll-ups, and gorgeous photos of her travels and quest for delicious sweets.

Back to the history: I was surprised to learn that early varieties of rhubarb had green stalks — growers selected those with a tinge of red to develop our modern red varieties. And color is not related to sweetness: some green varieties are sweeter than the red ones. Then again, we’re not buying rhubarb for its sweetness anyway. That cheerful rosy color, on the other hand, seems essential to our pleasure in the veggie-fruit.

Want to know more about rhubarb? You can find out most everything you ever wanted to know about its botany, varieties, growing techniques and history, along with recipes, at the Rhubarb Compendium.

So, I know I just gave you some great links which may lead you elsewhere into the blog universe, but before you go, take a minute to leave a comment or memory about rhubarb below. Or consider whether rhubarb crisp could be (or should be?) eaten for breakfast. I’d love to hear from you!


Filed under baked goods, dessert, Praise for other cooks, spring, Uncategorized

In and out of the kitchen

The horse chestnut trees are in bloom here. I love these majestic trees and I watch them all year long, as they change through the seasons. I have my favorites around town, and today was a beautiful day to get out and go spend some time around and under the trees.

The blooms are creamy white clusters with just a touch of pink… and speaking of pink….

It’s also rhubarb season!!!

Okay, I think I talked earlier about my one-pie-a-season method. Well, for spring, rhubarb definitely takes the pie. Though I like other things made with rhubarb, I think it’s at its ultimate best when served up in a good old classic pie crust.

Also, I’m not a purist about too many things (although I can’t accept bagels with cinnamon or blueberries) but I do like my rhubarb straight. If someone else makes a strawberry-rhubarb pie, I wouldn’t refuse it, but in my kitchen, the rhubarb pie filling is all rhubarb — with just enough sugar and a  hint of orange zest.

When I was growing up in Chicago, we always had rhubarb plants growing by the side of the house.  We were warned not to eat the plants — they’re poisonous–but it was the stalks we were after! Of course, my mother made wonderful rhubarb pies. She gave some to our neighbors, who had never before tried the “pie plant” — and they were quickly won over.

I like to make a fancy one with a twisted lattice crust….

Last May, Aviva and I made this pie together. What a great memory on Mother’s Day!

But this year she’s in North Carolina. She told me that rhubarb season is at the tail end there and she couldn’t even get enough to make a whole pie– so she made a rhubarb-custard pie for the first time.

Anyway, this year (with rare exceptions), I’m trying to seriously cut down on the butter (yes, I know, it’s wonderful stuff…and Julia Child lived till almost 92…but some of us really HAVE TO avoid it). I could have just made some rhubarb sauce which is quite delicious by itself, but I was craving that seasonal rhubarb pie, after all …so I decided to make a half-pie.

Here’s what I did: I took a couple cups of cleaned chopped rhubarb, a little less than half a cup of sugar, some orange zest and a couple teaspoons of flour, and mixed that all together and put it in a pie pan. Then I made a small amount of pie pastry, using oil instead of butter and made a kind of rough lattice pattern on the top (the pastry was a little messy to work with, but tasted surprisingly good). I baked it at 400 degrees till it was browned on top and the rhubarb was soft and juicy — only about 20 or 25 minutes.

Okay, it wasn’t quite as pretty (and certainly not as buttery) as my true rhubarb pie, but it was still very satisfying. Steve and I ate it while it was still warm and I think it was more than half as good as the real thing. Mmmmm-mmmmm.


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