Mom Hartzler’s Rhubarb Pie {Recipe}

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

Ingredients

One 9-inch pie crust

Filling:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

Topping:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in center of oven.
  2. Whisk egg, sugar, flour, and vanilla in large bowl until well mixed. Add rhubarb and toss with rubber spatula.
  3. Combine topping ingredients in small bowl and blend with fork.
  4. Scrape rhubarb mixture into shell and spread evenly with rubber spatula. Use your fingers to crumble topping over filling.
  5. 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.

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15 Comments

  1. June 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

    […] To say I’m not a fan of rhubarb would be an understatement. I’ve often wondered how hungry someone had to be to first eat rhubarb. And having been poisoned by the leaves, what possessed them to try again? But to my great surprise, I recently found a rhubarb recipe that I liked — my late mother-in-law’s rhubarb pie. […]

  2. Kathy said,

    May 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Your pie looks amazing! Beautiful crust! My rhubarb is just about ready to be picked…I always make at least one strawberry-rhubarb pie but now, I will have to make this one too! Really enjoyed your post!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Thanks! I hope you like it as much as we do. My father-in-law has more rhubarb coming in, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to make it again.

  3. Feeding Time said,

    May 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

    This looks really incredible. And as with most food, the stories behind it make it even better. That said, I am going to try this and perhaps make my own story with it.

    Cheers
    Nicole

    • gaaarp said,

      May 16, 2011 at 8:07 am

      Thanks, Nicole. I hope you enjoy it!

  4. Margaret said,

    May 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Not looking forward to day when lose either one of our “Moms”. Sweet post Phy.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, Margaret. As my parents age, I cherish them and the time we spend together more and more.

  5. Sharon said,

    May 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I’ve been making that recipe for years now. It was one that after I ate it at their house I had to have. Jim just said last night that he has some rhubarb and was wondering if we could trade…rhubarb for a pie. He said he thought he’d make it but the crust was a bit tricky for him. I never liked it before either but that recipe is the best. I always make crumb toppings on my pies as that is my favorite. This pie is definately one to try!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      Nick Malgieri told me that for juicy pies like this, if you don’t want the bottom of the crumb topping to get gooey, you can prebake the crumb on a baking sheet, then break it up and put it on top of the pie before baking, as usual. I was going to try it, but I kind of like the gooey crumb part!

  6. Abby said,

    May 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother-in-law! I am not a fan of rhubarb myself, but that crust looks absolutely amazing. I love having family recipes that make me feel close to people who are no longer around.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      The first time someone asked me to make one of Mom’s recipes, I was worried. It could never be the same as the way she made it, you know? But everyone appreciates the sentiment.

  7. Kayte said,

    May 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    You ate half the pie???? lol Well, I have to say, that is one really great looking pie. Rhubarb pie is one of my favorites…can I have this instead of the fish pie? lol Lovely tribute to your mother-in-law “Mom” — I can see a touch of her in the girls and lot of her in Ju. Beautiful smiles all around, too!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks. Tell you what — we’ll have this for dessert on fish pie night. But only for those in the Clean Plate Club!

  8. Di said,

    May 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Lovely post, Phyl. I feel the same way about a lot of recipes from my mom and gramma. I still wish they were here, but I’m enjoying sharing some of the recipes with my girls.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      When I posted my Nan’s goulash recipe back in October, I knew I wanted to do more family recipes. It’s a great way to remember loved ones and cherished recipes.


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