“There was pie plant in the garden; she must make a couple of pies.”
After years of living on the plains with her parents, Laura finally settled into a house of her own with Almanzo. In The First Four Years, we learn about Laura’s life as a new wife on the South Dakota prairie.
When Laura was getting ready to cook the first dinner in her own home, she noticed the “pie plant” in her garden and decided to make a few pies for dessert.
Pie plant is a nickname used for rhubarb often seen in 19th-century cookbooks. And what a great name it is for a sour stalk that bakes easily into pie. This plant was an important resource in pioneer days because it was easy to grow and it was a good source of vitamin C. This was a crucial nutrient as people on the plains fought off diseases like scurvy.
Because pie plant is so sour, it’s necessary to add quite a bit of sugar to make the pie taste good. Laura forgot to add the sugar for that first dinner, though. There were guests at the meal, and one of them saved her by saying that he preferred to add sugar himself to his pie. Laura thought those first bites must have tasted awful.
This rhubarb pie recipe does include a good bit of sugar to counter the tart flavor of the rhubarb. If you prefer your pie to be more tart, you can cut out ¼ cup of sugar. A sprinkle of cinnamon adds a nice touch to the pie. Rhubarb is such an easy plant to grow in cooler climates, and this is a simple recipe that highlights this unique plant.
INGREDIENTS FOR TWO PIE CRUSTS (KNOWN BACK THEN AS “COMMON FAMILY PASTE FOR PIES” AS DESCRIBED IN THE LITTLE HOUSE COOKBOOK”)
- 2½ cups flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbs. sugar
- ⅔ cup butter or lard (10 tbs.)
- 6 tbs. ice water
DIRECTIONS FOR MA’S OLD-FASHIONED PIE CRUST
- Chill the crust ingredients, along with a 2 quart bowl, in the refrigerator. Prepare a cup of ice water.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in the chilled bowl. Slice the cold butter into small pieces and add them to the flour. Blend together with your fingertips until the mixture is uniformly coarse. Continue to toss the mixture with a spoon as you add 3 tablespoons of ice water. Add water as needed to make the dough stick together into a smooth mass (about 6 tablespoons total).
- Shape the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Chill them in the fridge while you prepare the pie filling. (In summer, Ma Ingalls might have set the dough bowl in a pan of cold well water.)
Ingredients for Rhubarb Pie Filling
- 5 cups sliced rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons flour
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
How to Make Laura’s Rhubarb Pie
- To make the filling, stir together the rhubarb, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.
- Dust a work surface lightly with flour and flatten one ball of dough on it. Roll the dough into a circle 2 inches wider than your pie pan (about 1/8 inch thick).
- Butter the pie pan. Transfer the dough by folding it in quarters, placing it in the pan, and unfolding. Trim with a knife around the pan edge.
- Add the rhubarb filling to the pie dish.
Finishing The Rhubarb Pie
- Roll out the top crust as you did the bottom one. Transfer it to the top of the filling and trim the edges. Pinch the edges together with your fingers or press with the tines of a fork. Vent the top crust by slashing it in a simple design or piercing it a few times with a fork.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more. The pie is done when the crust is brown and the juice bubbles from the vents in the crust.
- Cool the pie completely before cutting.
Do you grow rhubarb in your garden or like to cook with it? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below. See other Little House on the Prairie recipes for amazing old-fashioned foods.
The author drew ideas and inspiration from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). You can read a review of this wonderful resource by clicking here.
The author adapted the pie filling from Food52.
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