“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.
Annemarie Rossi is the creator of Real Food Real Deals and the author of Conquering Your Kitchen. Her website provides recipes and tips to help families eat healthy food on a budget. Annemarie’s work has been featured in many places, including the Non-GMO Cookbook, Edible Boston magazine, Fox News Online, Babble, and Huffington Post. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.
In a bowl, combine the sugar and oil; blend in egg, vanilla and milk. Combine flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; add to moist ingredients. Stir in rhubarb and nuts. Transfer to 2 well-greased 8×4-in. loaf pans.
Bake at 350° until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
I made this yesterday but my crust was soggy and my filling was watery. I did use the Pillsbury ready made crusts I was in a time crunch. Any suggestions to avoid a soggy crust with watery filling?
Needs to cook longer, cover the rim of the pie crust with tin foil to pervert it from burning, may need more flour in the rhubarb mixture.
Hello. I am Australian and we often add apple to rhubarb with a bit of cinnamon and sugar and use it for breakfast with cereal or warm stewed with custard or in a pie with cream or icecream. Love it. During Covid last year I lasted new corms but only one has grown well. I usually put a couple of pieces of lemon rind in when stewing as I like the added fragrance and flavour.
Hi Laura my name is Jenny and I’m looking to make a strawberry rhubarb pie and I don’t know of a good one can you please help me ? Please
When I read through these books again with my kids, I realized that the pie plant was probably rhubarb and I can’t imagine eating rhubarb without sugar. Yikes!
I just buy very ripe usually reduced in price strawberries…because they taste good. Put in saucepan with a little sugar and place chopped rhubarb in the pan. Add more sugar and water, be careful not to much water though.. Simmer. Taste again for correct sweetness and voila.. the perfect combination to use or freeze for later.
To grow your rhubarb, plant in a sunny location. The north side of an out building works well with full sun and just forget about it for a couple years. There are a couple varieties of rhubarb as well. When you harvest your rhubarb it is best to pull it out, grabbing towards the base of the stalk. Good luck
i love to watch the show i like how u live and work hard aswell
my mom grew rhubarb.i used to take the rhubarb and dunk it in sugar and eat it that way.
OH MY GOSH….. there is absolutely nothing better than STRAIGHT rhubarb pie, this has been my all time favorite pie since I was a small child & that was more than 65 yrs. ago. So many recipes you see now & even in the pastry shops have other fruit mixed in…. just not my thing.
Thanks for a great recipe ( and the memory )
I make a Rhubarb Custard Pie, of course homemade crust and I top it with a Brown Sugar Crumb topping. My 8 year old granddaughter says it is “almost her favorite pie, only my Lemon is better”.
I bought some new starter plants and put them in the Rhubarb patch but they did not come. Any ideas what might work if I decide to try again?
Rhubarb needs sun. To get a nice crop in the spring it needs lots of rain in the fall. Put a little manure around the plant to feed in the spring. If is dry give the plant some water. I also mulch to help keep weeds away. I am also very fond of black earth. If you can find a friend that is willing to share or split a plant or two try again. Remember to cut out the seed pods and their stalks or your rhubarb will become bitter. Good luck!
I usually make rhubarb custard pie. My husband can eat half a pie at one sitting when it’s the first one of the season. He also likes strawberry-rhubarb, but I’m a purest…like mine just rhubarb. As long as I can remember we had rhubarb on my Dad’s farm. My mom would make stewed rhubarb flavoured and sweetened with strawberry jello. Sometimes she used cherry jello. Once I had my own home I also grew rhubarb. We have just downsized and I split one plant and transferred them to the new place. Can’t wait for it to grow enough to make pies.
I agree, But you have to really love it. My family always made it straight but usually as a custard pie. My husband loved it and I use to have large plant at my old house but can’t seem to get it to grow on my side of the mountain. But I have a friend that is generous. I also make a delicious Rhubarb sauce. It is make with 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple drained, and 2 table. instant tapioca 1 1/2 cup of water. I usually mix the tapioca and pineapple together with the sugar and add the drained pineapple juice as part of the water amount. The add Rhubarb. Let mixture stand 5 minutes and then cook mixture to boiling over med heat until rhubarb is soft cool to room temp. Pour int storage container and refrigerator until ready to serve or freeze.
I had some tonight for supper.
Forgot to tell how much Rhubarb About 5 cups. One thing to mention. The leaves and root are toxic. So please make sure you cut it all off.
Growing up my mom had a huge garden with rhubarb and a strawberry patch. She made strawberry rhubarb jam. We didn’t use store bought jelly. I am salivating just thinking about it. Best jam ever. Did not realize rhubarb is also known as pie plant. Will have to ask mom if she knew that.
My family is always saying they do not like rhubarb pie so one of our get-togethers I made my special rhubarb pie which was just adding a package of cherry Jell-O to the pie filling mixture. Everyone was asking for my recipe saying it was the best cherry pie I have ever had!
I’ve made it with strawberry jello, it was good also.
Love watching Little House and learning about the real family from your articles.