Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sign of Spring: Rhubarb at the Farmers Market

Most of the farmers markets in southeast Wisconsin open the first weekend of May.  Since I was too busy sunning myself on vacation in Florida and the Bahamas that weekend, I missed the first one.  As much as I didn't want to on this past cold and rainy Saturday, I dragged myself out of bed because the farmers market was calling my name.  I wasn't sure what I would find, because I've never actually gone to a farmers market this early in the season.  I usually wait until summer is in full swing to venture out, since that is when most items are ripe for the picking.

I could tell at first glance the items in abundance this early in the market season.  There were tons of hanging baskets and flowers, as well as various vegetable and herb plants.  If I wanted to start a garden, this felt like the place to go!  If I didn't live in a condo, and if I had even the palest of green thumbs, I would have come home with a lot more than I did.  There were also the usual bakery items, kettle corn, cheese and mushroom vendors who keep me coming back over and over again.  I purchased some huge molasses cookies, a basil plant which I thought would be easy to manage out on my deck this summer, and a couple of huge portabello mushrooms (may be posting something about those later).

Valentine Rhubarb
I stopped in my tracks when I spotted the rhubarb.  Beckoning me in beautiful red bundles were one of my favorite flavors of spring.  I couldn't even remember the last time I had rhubarb, but I knew I loved it.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to reap the rewards of the plant that our best friends/neighbors were willing to share with us on occasion.  I think I might have stolen some rhubarb my aunt had given my mom a few years ago too, but since then, I have missed it!  My husband had mentioned strawberry-rhubarb pie a few times over the last couple of months, so when I saw the rhubarb, all I could think of was that I wanted pie ASAP.  I love the tart flavor of rhubarb, especially when it it is mixed with sweet strawberries in a tasty pie.  I opted to by the Valentine rhubarb which is a little less acidic and a little thinner than the standard type.  Since it is still early for strawberries at the market, I made a quick stop at the grocery store and them home to bake.

This pie could be one of the easiest you could ever make, especially if you buy pre-made pie dough from the grocery store.  I opted to make my crust from scratch using an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  It is a little more time consuming, but the crust is just so fantastic, it is worth the effort - buttery and flaky, with just a hint of sweetness.  When coupled with the tart rhubarb filling, optimum deliciousness is achieved.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (printable recipe)

3 1/2 c. rhubarb, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 1/2 c. strawberries, sliced
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. instant tapioca (uncooked)
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of half a lemon
Double-crust pie dough (recipe follows)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.  Depending on the sweetness and amount of liquid produced by your rhubarb and strawberries, you can adjust the sugar and tapioca measurements accordingly.

Roll half of pie dough into a 12 inch circle and place it into a 9 inch pie plate.  Spread the rhubarb mixture over the unbaked crust.  Roll the other half of the dough into a 12 inch circle and place on top of the rhubarb mixture, crimping the edges to seal both layers together.  Make several slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape during baking.  Alternatively, you can do a lattice top like I did.  Brush top of pie with egg yolk, then sprinkle with sugar.
Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.  Cooling is necessary to allow the filling to thicken properly.

Basic Dough for a Double-Crust Pie 
from America's Test Kitchen

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 c. vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
6-8 T. ice water

Process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined.  Scatter the shortening over the top and process until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter over the top and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture.  Stir and press the dough together using a stiff rubber spatula, until the dough sticks together.  If the dough seems dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.

Divide the dough into two even pieces, form into a 4 inch disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for about an hour.  Before rolling the dough out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.  Dust rolling pin and board with flour to prevent sticking.  You can also roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper or parchment.


  1. Sounds yummy! I too saw rhubarb at our farm market last weekend, and now I kick myself for not getting any!! Can't wait to try this!

  2. Hi,
    I am an editor for The Gardener for the Prairies, a magazine for northern prairie gardeners (Canadian Hardiness Zones 2-3/USDA Zones 2-4). We are featuring rhubarb in an upcoming issue, and you have a great rhubarb image of Valentine rhubarb on this page. I wonder if you might let us use it in the magazine? If interested, please contact me.
    Thank you,
    William Hrycan, Horticulture Editor