Jean’s Rhubarb Bars

Every farm I remember from my childhood had at least a couple of big rhubarb plants in the backyard. Rhubarb used to be called “pie plant” because it makes delicious pies, but it also makes other great desserts from upside down cakes to marmalade. Jean’s rhubarb bars are a good example.

Jerri first had these bars at a funeral luncheon at the New Richmond United Methodist Church. She was so impressed with them that she found who made them and asked for the recipe. Jerri made them, and I loved them too.

However, Jerri has collected a lot of recipes over the years, and since she, like my mother, keeps them in boxes instead of a computer, occasionally a recipe disappears for years. This was the case with Jean’s rhubarb bar recipe. One day a few years ago she announced that she had found it again and would soon make some bars.

Weeks passed. And months. And one beautiful spring day when the rhubarb was beckoning, she discovered that the recipe had vanished once more. A couple of weeks ago when I said that I would really like to make that recipe and share it via the blog, she sat down at the bar with her recipe boxes.

Voilà! The recipe had miraculously reappeared in one of her recipe boxes. The instructions were a little vague but Jerri answered my questions, and the bars were delicious.

Jean died many years ago, but her memory lives with us and her other friends and in her rhubarb bars.


1 package yellow cake mix
1/2 cup flaked or shredded coconut
1/2 cup butter
3 cups fresh rhubarb
1 cup sugar
3 T flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream


Put the cake mix into a large bowl. Stir the coconut into the mix and use a fork or pastry blender to cut in the butter. Make the crust by pressing the mixture into a nine by thirteen inch ungreased cake pan.

Preheat the oven to 350º and sift the sugar, flour and cinnamon into a small bowl.

Wash the rhubarb and cut the stems into a scant half inch dice. Put the rhubarb into a medium mixing bowl. Mix about three-fourths of the sugar mixture into the rhubarb, reserving a quarter cup to finish the bars. Spoon a layer of rhubarb on the crust.

Beat the egg in a small bowl until it is lemon yellow, then beat in a cup of sour cream. Spread the sour cream evenly over the rhubarb and sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top.

Bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes until lightly browned.

NOTES: Do not use a cake mix with pudding in it.

Jean noted that you can also make these bars with prepared pie filling. Use only a half cup of sugar with a teaspoon of cinnamon. Put the pie filling on the crust, spread two-thirds of the sugar over the filling, cover it with the sour cream mixture and sprinkle the remaining sugar on top.

Only the stems of the rhubarb plant are edible (though as someone said, “All foods are edible, but some only once”). The leaves contain poisonous compounds including oxalic acid, although a one hundred forty pound human would have to eat more than ten pounds of rhubarb leaves to consume a lethal dose of the toxin. Actually, rhubarb is cultivated by some cultures for its medical value. Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, uses rhubarb roots as a laxative.

Esther’s Sour Cream Raisin Pie

Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States when Jerri’s grandparents emigrated from Ukraine to Kansas. Besides bringing a strong Christian faith, a commitment to non-violence and a belief that Christians had a duty to help those in need, they also carried with them the seeds of Turkey Red wheat, which helped make the Great Plains the breadbasket of the United States.

Turkey Red is a hard winter wheat that is coming back into popularity as a heritage grain. It is a wheat variety that evolved naturally on the steppes of Russia and later on the plains of the United States. Farmers saved seeds from especially desirable plants, which resulted in a vigorous plant that did not depend on petrochemicals to survive.

Turkey Red wheat is also comparatively drought tolerant. This distinguishes it from the modern hybrids developed by crossing short stem Japanese wheat. These hybrids achieve higher yields per acre but require more moisture along with intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers.

You can still see fields of Turkey Red wheat as you drive through Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and even Minnesota. There are now a number of small flour mills in Minnesota that specialize in producing flours made from Turkey Red wheat and other heritage grains. The nearest one I know of is Sunrise Flour Mill in North Branch, Minnesota, just an hour’s drive from New Richmond.

One other thing that Jerri’s ancestors brought with them from the “old country” was an appreciation for good food. Sour cream raisin pie is an excellent example. If you go to a potluck or bake sale at a Mennonite church, you are almost certain to find at least one pie fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg and stuffed with plump raisins in a rich, creamy custard cradled in a crust made with flour from a descendent of that original Turkey Red wheat.

Here’s how to make your own.


1 baked 9 inch pie crust

For the filling:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
3 large eggs

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 T granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


If you need to make a pre-baked pie crust, you’ll find that it’s easy. First make the dough. Here is a recipe. Line a nine inch pie plate with dough, trim and crimp the edges. Let it rest for ten minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 425º. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the crust a dozen times or so and line it with aluminum foil, then put a cup of beans on the foil. The beans will help keep the crust from bubbling up. You can also use pie weights if you want to buy them.

Bake the crust for twenty minutes, take it from the oven and turn the temperature down to 375º. Dump the beans into a bowl to cool and remove the aluminum foil. Return the crust to the oven and continue baking it for another fifteen minutes or so until it is a very light brown. Remove it from the oven and let it cool while you make the filling.

Reduce the oven to 325º while you make the filling and meringue.

To make the pie, start by separating the eggs. Drop the yolks into a medium saucepan and the whites into a bowl in which you will beat them to make the meringue.

To make the filling beat the egg yolks with a fork or whisk, then add the sour cream, sugar, salt and spices to the pan. Beat the mixture thoroughly, then stir in the raisins. Bring the mixture to a low boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the raisins are tender and the filling is a light brown. Remove the pan from the heat.

To make the meringue, add a quarter teaspoon of cream of tartar to the egg whites. Beat them with a hand or electric mixer at a medium speed until they are frothy, then increase the speed and gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla and beat for a few seconds more.

Spoon the warm filling into the crust, spread the meringue over the filling and bake the pie on a center shelf for about fifteen minutes until the meringue starts to brown.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it on a rack, then chill it in the refrigerator before serving.

NOTES: If you do like I do and make at least two pie crusts at a time, you can freeze one and use that to make your pre-baked crust. Just let it thaw for a few minutes then treat it like a fresh crust.

Put the beans into a tight container after they have cooled and save them for the next time you need to bake a crust. They will last for years.