By Carol Ferguson

Somehow it seems fitting that National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day comes on June 9.

The date is almost midway between Mother’s Day, International Children’s Day (June 1) and Father’s Day.

Could it be any more appropriate? Mothers bake this treat, fathers usually gobble it up, and kids, if they have any sense, count their blessings for having grown up in a household that serves this old-time dessert.

I have to admit, however, that in my parents’ home in Iowa, strawberries were not added to the rhubarb when Mother prepared this pie, probably a matter of tradition. Her pies and those of my aunts contained only rhubarb, and not until I moved to Texas years later did I discover how well the two flavors go together to make a happy marriage.

Last week I called the produce manager where I shop regularly and asked if rhubarb was available yet, and he agreed to order some. The season usually runs through early summer, so I intend to stock up and freeze the uncooked, pink stalks.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the origin of the word can be traced, in part, to the Greek “rha,” so named because the plant grew near the Rha river which we know as the Volga. The “barb” part is from barbarus, meaning foreign. Ruby, an old country woman I knew in Iowa, often referred to it as “pie plant,” although it is also used in such desserts as bread pudding, cheesecake, cookies and upside-down cake.

The leaves, however, are highly toxic and should never be eaten.

As a kid, I used to take the raw rhubarb stalks, dip the ends in sugar, and nibble on them. The flavor was on the tart side, but it made a good afternoon snack until the finished pie was ready for dinnertime dessert.

Anyone watching their diets should know that 2/3 cup of rhubarb contains 24 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium and nine percent of the RDA of Vitamin C.

We won’t go into the calorie count, because although there are only 21 calories per 2/3 cup, there is that little matter of sugar in the recipes.

Oh who cares! The rhubarb season is short, so live a little.

I don’t pretend to be Betty Crocker or TV’s Paula Deen, but, here is an absolutely wonderful recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie.

Mix together 2 cups of 1-inch long pieces of rhubarb, 2 cups of sliced strawberries, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, a pinch of salt, 1/3 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. Pour into unbaked pie shell, dot with 2 tablespoons of butter. Cut several slits in top crust for steam escape, and put on top of filling and crimp edges. Brush top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

While you’re at it, don’t bother with store-bought pastry. Try this easy version: Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt. Pour 5 tablespoons of ice water into 1/2 cup of salad oil and whip with a fork until creamy looking. Pour the oil/water mixture into the center of the flour/salt, and combine with as few strokes as possible. Roll out; it makes enough for top and bottom crusts.

A little hint: Put a cookie sheet on the rack below the pie while it’s baking because it does sometimes leak over a bit, which can create a mess in the bottom of the oven. Friends used to believe that one of the reasons I went to work full-time was to have a good excuse for not staying home and cleaning my oven. Comedienne Phyllis Diller — a soul sister in the kitchen — said it had been so long since she cleaned her oven she could only bake one cupcake at a time. I’m not at that stage, but I share her loathing for the job.

I don’t bake strawberry rhubarb pies as often as I’d like during the season. My husband, who grew up in Chicago, never learned to enjoy rhubarb, and I’m afraid he must have passed this trait along in his DNA to some of the children.

Our daughter, however, got the good genes and she relishes rhubarb.

Ah ha, a brilliant thought is forming — something about a little trade-off.

If she’ll come over some weekend afternoon, I’ll swap one freshly baked pie for a thorough oven cleaning.


Ferguson is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.

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