Shortly after J and I were married, I received a card from her parents. I forget the occasion — a birthday, Father’s Day, some other holiday — but I remember the card. It said, “To a Special Son”. After the word “Son”, her mom had written “in-Law”. J and I laughed about it and decided she had probably bought a bunch of cards ahead of time and was just making do with what she had.
We saw them a few weeks later, and when I thanked her for the card, she told me that she bought that one because none of the son-in-law cards said what she felt as well as the son cards. “Besides”, she said, “we think of you more as a son than a son-in-law”. As the years went by, Mom was never neglectful when it came to marking special occasions. And over time she stopped looking for son-in-law cards and just started sending me cards addressing me as their son.
That’s how she felt about me; and how I felt about her, too. I always called her, “Mom”. I felt as welcome in her home as in my own. And even on my worst days, I always felt her love and unconditional acceptance.
We lost Mom about a year ago, and I still miss her every day. Since she died, family gatherings have fallen to me to plan and host. And regardless of the holiday, someone always asks me to make one of Mom’s recipes. I’ve nearly perfected her baked corn and deviled eggs (both from the Mennonite Community Cookbook). And recently, I tried my hand at her rhubarb pie for the first time.
I’m not sure where the recipe originated. Dad Hartzler e-mailed it to me after he brought us rhubarb from his garden. It’s one of the only recipes I’ve seen that uses both a custard-type filling and a crumb topping. I made this pie for J the other night, as it’s her favorite. I’ve never been a rhubarb fan myself (I’ve been heard to say that rhubarb pie is proof that if you add enough sugar to something, people will eat it), but I have to admit, this pie is delicious.
Mom Hartzler’s Rhubarb Pie
One 9-inch pie crust
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in center of oven.
- Whisk egg, sugar, flour, and vanilla in large bowl until well mixed. Add rhubarb and toss with rubber spatula.
- Combine topping ingredients in small bowl and blend with fork.
- Scrape rhubarb mixture into shell and spread evenly with rubber spatula. Use your fingers to crumble topping over filling.
- Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking for 40 minutes or until crumb topping is golden and filling is set.
As I baked this pie the other day, I couldn’t help but think of Mom. Not only because it was her recipe and the rhubarb came from her garden, but because of my recent forray into pie and tart baking. For years, I could cook and bake about anything, but I struggled with pie crusts. Most of my attempts ended in failure, and whenever Mom was around, she would just laugh about it and then set out to make my crust for me.
So it was ironic and somewhat bittersweet when the crust for her rhubarb pie recipe came out picture perfect.
The crumb topping looked just like I remember hers looking.
And the pie itself baked up beautifully. Just like Mom’s, if I do say so myself.
And the flavor was as I remember, too. Sweet, with just the right hint of tartness from the rhubarb. I must be a closet rhubarb fan after all, as I ate half the pie last night.
To me, baking is one of the ways I feel tied to my past. When I think of family members, especially those who have passed on, I often remember their signature dishes — the ones they always brought to family gatherings, and the ones we all looked forward to. So it’s nice to have a number of Mom’s recipes. They make me feel close to her, even though she’s no longer here.