Mom's Amazing Rhubarb Custard Pie
Every winter, I reach a point where I just can’t look at another bowl of butternut squash soup or a heavy pot roast. The thought of eating one more ‘comforting winter dish’ makes me want to scream. After months of gray skies, cold weather, and heavy food, I’m aching for fresh produce.
I want something bright, sharp and springy – and it’s around this time that rhubarb appears on the scene.
This perennial is often one of the first vegetables you can harvest from a springtime garden. And the bright red stalks are among the first offerings when farmers’ markets start up again.
Forget the robin; rhubarb is the true harbinger of spring.
And aside from a hearty crisp made in your trusty cast-iron skillet, there’s nothing I love to do more with rhubarb than whip up my mom’s rhubarb custard pie.
A Rhubarb Pie Like No Other
For years, I couldn’t understand why mom’s rhubarb pie was so different from everyone else’s. As a child, I knew I liked rhubarb pie. I ate it every time Mom baked one. But whenever I would have a slice at a restaurant or another family member’s home, I would be puzzled as to why those pies were nothing like mom’s pie.
The filling wasn’t as creamy, it was usually too sweet, and the tang was overwhelming. And nine times out of ten, there were strawberries in the pie too.
Who puts strawberries in rhubarb pie?
(Apparently, everyone except for my mom.)
It was only later when I began to cook and bake on my own, that I realized mom’s pie was a custard base. While most other recipes are the traditional pie filling of fruit and sugar, Mom’s pie had an egg base. That custardy filling cuts the sharpness of the rhubarb, turning the entire pie into a creamy, piquant delight.
You get the tartness of rhubarb without turning your face inside out.
And in our house, we all know that rhubarb is a vegetable. So having a slice of mom’s rhubarb custard pie counts as a serving of vegetables. Add in the eggs, and now you’ve got vegetables and protein. It’s practically health food at this point.
Mom’s Legacy Lives On
I lost my mom to colon cancer back in 2014. She battled for three years before it finally took her. Mom was always happy to sit down with her recipe box and hand-copy her rhubarb custard pie recipe (or any other recipe, for that matter) onto a recipe card for a friend, neighbor or church member who wanted it.
I like to think that every person who finds this page and bakes a pie is keeping Mom’s rhubarb legacy alive. So, thank you, enjoy this pie in good health and please pass the recipe on. And don’t forget to get your colonoscopy. My mom would still be with us had she got hers when she was first supposed to.
Let’s Make a Pie
If you have rhubarb growing in your backyard, you’ve got it made. Pick your rhubarb just before making the pie. And remember, rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so remove the leaves first. (Chuck ‘em in the compost, or check out some great ideas for ways to use them around the garden.)
For those of us who don’t have rhubarb growing in the backyard, you should get some in the ground. It practically grows itself. And it’s a perennial! It comes back every year. I love lazy veggies like that!
Farmers' markets are also great sources of rhubarb each spring. Most vendors will happily tell you that the rhubarb you purchased was picked fresh that morning.
However, a little more care is needed when purchasing rhubarb from the supermarket. Inspect each stalk for brown or mushy spots. If it’s a little limp, that’s okay; you can perk up travel-weary rhubarb at home. Mainly, you want to avoid rhubarb that’s starting to go bad.
Once home, trim an inch from the bottom where the stalk was cut away from the plant. Place your rhubarb stalk, trimmed end down, in a jar of cold water. The rhubarb will perk up within an hour or two (or you can leave it overnight).
If you aren’t going to use your rhubarb right away, store your rhubarb in the jar of water in the fridge. It will keep this way for several days.
The Crust Makes the Pie
My family knows when it comes to pie; I am an absolute snob. Whenever we roll up to a diner touting “the best pie you’ve ever tasted,” I’m dubious. First, it seems every diner thinks they have the best pie you’ve ever tasted, and second, most leave the crust as an afterthought.
And crust can never be an afterthought when it comes to pie.
Even if the filling is wonderful, if the crust is pasty and flavorless, sticking to the roof of your mouth, it ruins the whole experience.
Pie crust isn’t a wrapper for the filling.
It’s got to add to the overall flavor, and the texture has to be right—flaky, golden and tender.
My mom made good pie and always said the secret to a good crust was using real lard and butter instead of Crisco. Following her lead, I got pretty okay at making pie crusts. Then Alton Brown came along with his method and elevated my pie crusts to another level.
I loved his method. I could set up a little production line and crank out six to eight pie crusts, pack them in freezer bags, and toss them in the freezer. They froze beautifully, and I had quiche and pie whenever I wanted.
But I find even Alton’s method fussy and too much work these days.
I stumbled across this absolute gem of a pie crust back in 2020 when I had a hard time sourcing lard, and let’s be honest, we all needed things to be a little more simple that year. You can manhandle it without the crust coming out tough. You can go crazy with the flour and still end up with a great crust. And the ingredient list is short; you probably already have it.
If pie crust is something you struggle with, this is the one for you. The resulting pie crust is buttery and flaky, and complements any pie filling, including rhubarb custard.
4 cups rhubarb chopped into 1" pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash of salt
2 crusts for a 9" pie
2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
Optional: egg white or milk for crust wash
Place bottom pie crust in pie pan and set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy.
Next, add the rhubarb, sugar, flour, nutmeg and salt and beat until smooth.
Pour rhubarb custard mixture into prepared pie dish. Dot with butter pieces and add top pie crust. (Lattice works well with this recipe.) Crimp to seal pie crust.
Optional: lightly brush pie crust with egg white or milk for a shiny, golden crust.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 50 minutes.
Allow to cool completely before serving.