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


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


  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.

Family Food: Nanny Faye’s Hungarian Goulash {Recipe}

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Today is a special day for my friend, Cheryl Tan. After what I’m sure seems like an eternity, her book, A Tiger in the Kitchen, comes out today. Check it out on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s what Cheryl told me about this book and her inspiration for it:

  • A Tiger In The Kitchen,… is about a year that I spent traveling to Singapore to learn about my family by cooking with them. The book is filled with lessons (life, cooking and otherwise) learned in the kitchen, as well as a few recipes.”

To celebrate the release of Cheryl’s book, I would like to share a family recipe with you. This is far and away my favorite recipe from my maternal grandmother, Nanny Faye. Nan made a lot of great recipes. Her fried chicken was nothing short of sublime. But the dish we all looked forward to whenever she would visit was her Hungarian Goulash.

Nan said she was given this recipe by a Hungarian neighbor, and for years she would never share it with anyone. When I was 13 years old, Nan came to live with us for about a year while my mom was in nursing school. During that time, Nan and I started cooking together, and I would help her make goulash whenever it was on the menu for dinner. Eventually, I tried to write down the recipe as best I could from what I observed while we cooked. I showed my attempt to Nan, and without a word, she took it and began to make some corrections. Before long, I had the recipe that no one in my family thought possible to get in writing.

I grew up thinking this dish was fairly representative of Hungarian goulash. In later years, I found that what most people think of as “goulash” is quite different than Nan’s dish. Most other recipes are more like a soup than a stew and are served over spaetzle or some other kind of noodle. They also usually contain onions and green peppers. At some point, I began to question the authenticity of Nan’s goulash. But I eventually realized that goulash is to Hungary as red beans and rice are to New Orleans. That is to say, it’s a dish found in every kitchen, and every cook has her own way of preparing it. So even though this recipe may be different than what you think of when you hear the word “goulash”, if you try it, I am certain you will agree that it is delicious by any name.

The recipe presented below is largely the same as it was when I got it from Nanny Faye, with just a few changes. When Nan made goulash, she did the whole thing on the stovetop, cooking the beef in the sauce for about 45 minutes, then adding the carrots and cooking for another 45 minutes, and finally adding the potatoes and cooking until they were done, 45 minutes to an hour. I like to put the whole thing together and braise it in the oven. It’s easier, takes less attention, and comes out beautifully.

Nanny Faye’s Hungarian Goulash


  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • Salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 18 oz. tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes


  1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut beef into 1-inch cubes. Salt lightly. Melt butter in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides in small batches. As pieces are well-browned, remove them to a bowl.
  3. While meat is browning, mix flour and paprika in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, mix tomato paste, 1 1/2 cups water, garlic, and a pinch of salt.
  4. After all the meat has browned, reduce heat to medium and return meat to the Dutch oven. Add flour mixture, tomato paste mixture, carrots, and potatoes, in order, stirring well after each addition. Cook until sauce begins to bubble.
  5. Cover Dutch oven and place on center rack of oven. Allow meat to braise for 1 hour. Remove pot from oven, uncover, and stir stew. Add water as necessary – mixture should be thick.
  6. Replace lid, return pot to oven, and cook 1 1/2 hours longer, until beef and vegetables are very tender.
  7. Serve immediately with crusty French bread, or chill overnight and reheat the next day. Like most stewed beef dishes, this goulash benefits from an overnight rest and will taste even better the next day.

Yield: 10-12 generous servings