The First Pie

“Gardening-We feel bound constantly to urge upon the attention of our readers the profit and importance of a good garden. Its influence is good every way. It spreads the table with palatable and nutritious food, and fills dessert dishes with luxuries, and thus saves cash which must otherwise be paid for beef, ham, veal, and lamb; besides promoting the health and spirits more than the meat would. Then a garden is a civilizer. The garden and orchard beautify the home wonderfully, and kindle emotions which never die out of the heart.”

The Old Countryman from The Canadian Emigrant Housekeeper’s Guide, 1851

In Southern Ontario, where I live, the garden has come to life, and one of the first local luxuries that we can either pick from our patch or buy in the market is, the pie plant; rhubarb, native to Asia and originally used for medicinal purposes, it somehow found its way from northern China, through Europe then  to England, where the first mention of it as an ingredient was in the mid-1700’s,  and by the early 1800’s it was popular in the markets, and the first recipe for rhubarb pie appeared in print in 1855, (Nothing More Comforting, Dorothy Duncan). Rhubarb as a plant is almost indestructible, and as a perennial it’s one of the first dessert ingredients to appear in the mid to late spring. It’s actually a vegetable, but with just the right amount of sugar, it melts into one of the most delicious  and easy pie fillings that a farm wife or city dweller could make.  As a kid I knew it as “pie plant,” an old name, as rhubarb was mainly used for pies.  In the spring, after a long winter of dried apple pies, it was the first pies that was made “fresh.” Rhubarb with its sweet pink hue and bright eyed tart taste, demands that every house  have it in the garden. In fact, I once was so enamored of a large round patch that I almost talked myself into buying a run down farm house on  ten acres. Of course, I could justify my foolishness by thinking about how many mouth watering pies that patch could produce, in fact, I had decided right then and there that I’d open a road side stand and sell rhubarb pies to help pay the mortgage. Fortunately for me, there were others who not being fans of the pie plant, talked me out of it, and instead of making hundreds of rhubarb pies a season, I make one or two, and I am content.

This is an Elizabeth Baird recipe from her book Summer Berries, pub.1980. She says that it is a recipe from Sebringville Ontario and is “an early spring version of the Mennonite schnitz apple pie.” Sebringville is a village in the lush agricultural belt in Southern Ontario, and is an area where I’m sure that every farm has a rhubarb patch.

Rhubarb Cream Streusel Pie

Sufficient pastry for a 1-crust 10″pie


1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sour cream (use the best quality that you can find)

1 egg yolk

4 cups diced fresh rhubarb, cut in 1/2″ pieces.


1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup cold butter

Line a pie plate with the pastry. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

To make the filling, place the sugar, flour, sour cream, egg yolk and rhubarb in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, then spoon into the pie shell.

To make the topping, mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the mixture until it’s crumbly. Spoon evenly over the rhubarb.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F. and bake for 30 minutes more or until the crumble top is golden and crisp, and the rhubarb is tender. Serve warm or cold.

Yield: 8 servings.

Note: this is a VERY sweet pie, so you need to serve it with either whipped cream or ice cream and it is best served cold

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