Jerri’s Rhubarb Custard Pie

Once there was a restaurant in New Richmond that regulars called “the Polish palace” next to the Gem Theatre on Knowles Avenue. It opened about four in the morning when the owner walked in and left the door unlocked. In a few minutes you could buy a cup of fresh hot coffee and, when the grill was hot, get a breakfast cooked to order.

You could also meet a lot of New Richmond businessmen who stopped in for breakfast or a cup of coffee and a chance to catch up on the latest news before opening their doors for the day. It was the sort of place my father would have liked: Short on decor but long on good cooking.

It was there that I first had a piece of rhubarb custard pie.  One piece and I was hooked.  When I told my wife about it, she started looking and found a recipe that equals (or maybe exceeds) the best rhubarb custard pie I ever had, and it’s easy to make.  Here’s what you do.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie crust pastry for a 9 inch pie with a top lattice crust
4 cps fresh rhubarb
2 1/8 cups sugar
5 T flour
1/4 tsp. + dash ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
4 eggs
2 T butter
1/2 tsp. sugar for garnish

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 400º. Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut the stalks into one inch pieces. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat the eggs until they are lemon colored and then beat them into the dry ingredients. Add the rhubarb pieces and stir to mix well. Line the pie plate with a bottom crust. Fill it with the mixture and dot with small pieces of the butter. Roll out the remaining dough, cut into half inch strips and top the pie with a lattice.

Bake at 400º for about forty minutes, then sprinkle a little sugar on the lattice and bake an additional ten to fifteen minutes. Check for doneness with a knife inserted near the center. When it comes out clean the pie is done.

This is the season for rhubarb. With the spring rains and cool temperatures, the plants are absolutely beautiful. Today I made my first rhubarb custard pie of the year. Try it, you may like it!

Grandma Rang’s Apple Cream Pie

In the winter our basement smelled of apples.  Every fall we would head to Bayfield to buy them:  Eating apples, pie apples, apples for sauce, crabapples for pickling and those we called “keeping apples.”  Those were the apples that perfumed our basement from December through March each year.  Cortlands I am sure and maybe Northern Spies.  My mother liked Jonathans and Wealthies for pies and McIntoshes which made beautiful pink applesauce.

I loved them all, especially when I could pick them off the trees, which we could do at some smaller orchards.  Apples that you pick yourself seem to taste better.  That may explain why I stop to pick apples from trees growing along roadsides, sometimes to the consternation of my wife who thinks that one should not park just anywhere.  Most of them don’t taste very good, but I still am expecting to discover the next great apple.

My earliest memories of our apple trips are from the early 1950’s after we moved to the country.  We would get up early in the morning, pack a picnic lunch and head north on highway 63.  In the trunk would be a pile of gunny sacks ready to be filled with apples.

It was always an exciting day that included stops at several orchards and a picnic along Lake Superior.  The farm families who sold the apples were good marketers, ready to answer questions and offer slices of new varieties that sometimes ended up in the trunk along with the old favorites.

The picnics were sometimes exciting too.  I remember one when our 1948 Plymouth was stuffed with apples.  The trunk was full, the rear window ledge was full, even my lap was full.  When we got to the park along the lake, my sisters and I headed for the beach while Dad scouted for wood and Mom set the picnic table.

When we went back to get permission to go swimming (denied, as I recall), Dad was busy whittling spoons.  He suggested that if I didn’t want to eat my beans from the communal can I could find some birch bark for plates.  So my sisters and I spread out through the woods and found bark that we could peel from the birches scattered along the shore without hurting the trees.  Bean juice tends to run off birch bark plates, but you can soak it up with your hot dog bun if you are quick.

When we got home, we emptied the sacks into bushel baskets and stored them in the basement.  In the following weeks we ate hundreds of apples for snacks, and Mom turned apples into sauce, jelly, pickles and all kinds of wonderful baked goods.  Some of those apples lasted through the winter, which meant we could enjoy Grandma Rang’s Apple Cream Pie for nearly half the year.

Grandma Rang immigrated with her family to the United States from Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany.  She almost certainly learned this recipe from her mother, which may explain why it is similar to Dutch apple pie recipes.  All I know for certain is that my mother learned to make it from Grandma and that we all loved it.  It is still my favorite apple pie.

Even better, it is absurdly easy to make.  The most difficult part is peeling the apples.

INGREDIENTS:

1 nine inch unbaked pie shell
Enough apples to fill the crust
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 T flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup cream or half and half

PROCEDURE:

Wash, peel and core the apples.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice enough half quarter apples to make a tight layer on the bottom of the crust.  Then fill the crust to heaping with sliced apples.

Mix the sugar, salt, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Stir in enough cream or half and half to make a mixture like a thick gravy.  Drizzle it evenly over the apples.  Bake the pie for about an hour, or until some of the apple slices are slightly browned on the tips.

Note:  If the apples seem to be especially juicy, add an extra teaspoon of flour.