A SLICE OF RHUBARB History
Rhubarb has a long, storied history- originally utilized for herbal and medicinal purposes. Botanically speaking, the pink and green stalks are considered a vegetable, and didn't appear in American seed catalogs until 1839. When sugar became less of a luxury item and more affordable (here and abroad), sweetened rhubarb began to steal the spotlight in spring-centric desserts. And because strawberry season aligned with rhubarb in many parts of the country, the two were paired together. Early recipes for rhubarb pie could be a little vague. In 1878, rhubarb was mentioned in Jenny June's American Cookery Book with the note, "This Is one of the greatest spring luxuries though the quantity of sugar required to be used with It renders It rather expensive. Sugar may be put In as long as your conscience will let you, and a handful afterwards."
Interesting to note, In 1947, the United States gave rhubarb the legal designation as a 'fruit' to avoid the high tariffs Imposed on Imported vegetables. (It was cheaper at the time to bring fruit Into the country.) Today, rhubarb adds a hit of brightness to sweet and savory dishes, but lends Its distinctive pucker to the double crusted dessert we can't get enough of. You'll probably see a little (or a lot) of rhubarb drama play out tomorrow at your local Farmers' Market as the individuaI just ahead of you snags the last stalks from your favorite purveyor. Just a thought- the world can be a greedy place; consider leaving a little for the person waiting patiently behind you. Chances are pretty good you'll be able to get your hands on one or two containers of the season's first gem-like strawberries. Even if you're a rhubarb pie purist, sweet strawberries will temper rhubarb's brazen flavor which means you can take it easy on the sugar. (There's nothing quite so disappointing as an overly sweetened fruit pie, imho.)
For a 9" pie, The Joy of Cooking recommends equal parts early season rhubarb and strawberries (5 cups total) teamed with 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup minute tapioca, orange zest, pinch of salt. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees F, and bake until bubbly about, 35 minutes more. Cool completely. Enjoy.
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