Big, elephant-eared rhubarb leaves (poisonous) have just unfurled, and their tender red-green stalks titillate with the first taste of spring. Early settlers eagerly anticipated the plant as source of a revivifying tonic; we now understand it to have been their first important jolt of vitamin C after a winter without. Nowadays, it’s the tart sweet tang that we crave.
Rhubarb and strawberries marry beautifully. Rhubarb emerges first, but by June, even stretching into July, the two coexist. So I give proportions for both solo and duo below:
pastry sufficient for 2 crusts
fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into one inch segments
fresh strawberries (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
rhubarb solo: 6 cups fruit, 3½ tablespoons tapioca, slightly less than 1 cup sugar
rhubarb-strawberry: 4 cups rhubarb, 2 cups strawberries, 3½ tablespoons tapioca, 7/8 cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a Pyrex pie pan with unbaked pie pastry. Combine rhubarb, berries, tapioca and sugar in a mixing bowl, and pour into the prepared shell. Top with a woven lattice crust, trimming and crimping the edges neatly. Tuck bits of butter within each of the interstices of the lattice to melt into a glaze.
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 40 to 45 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool to lukewarm before serving so that the filling has a chance to gel.
Nice on a butter crust, or on the crust offered with Nana’s Cherry Pie. Gild the lily: serve it à la mode with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
P.S. Here’s a little harvest tip I learned from an old-timer: rather than cutting each stalk at ground level, clutch it low and give a smart tug. The stalk comes up with its own discrete seal at the base, and doesn’t bleed.