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Low Mileage Kitchen: A rhubarb pie to remember

This rhubarb 'cream pie' contains no cream but rather pecan pie-like base surrounding chunks fresh rhubarb. (Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

This rhubarb "cream pie" contains no cream, but rather a pecan pie-like base surrounding chunks of fresh rhubarb. (Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

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From the Farmstand

The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe. Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program
( Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to

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Updated: May 12, 2011 12:45PM

Everyone who knows me knows I love rhubarb.

I love the color of the raw stems and the big curly leaves in the garden; I love its tart flavor when cooked; I love how, as a sauce, it makes a delightful counterpoint to meats as well as desserts. Most of all, I love that it is one of the first of spring’s gifts after a long, hard winter.

My files include an entire encyclopedia of recipes and facts about the plant and ways to use it. That includes several documents on how to refer to it — is it a vegetable or fruit?

Apparently there is at least one other person out there who shares my passion. Check out the website and you’ll find this answer: “Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit but is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, and is therefore a member of the vegetable family.”

The website includes more than 300 recipes and even rhubarb-themed T-shirts to declare your preference. It also reminds us that rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber, just what we need this time of year.

Do you have a taste memory that just won’t go away? I have spent years searching for a recipe to match one of those memories.

In high school home-ec class, we learned to make pies, and one of them was what I remembered as a “rhubarb cream pie.” It was not at all like the usual rhubarb-strawberry double-crust pies so popular at this time of year. I thought I knew which cookbook it came from, since our little school didn’t have very many from which to choose. But no amount of sleuthing over the years ever turned up the recipe, though I made — and ate! — a lot of pie as research.

One day a friend indulged my penchant for collecting every cookbook ever printed (or so it seems from the looks of my library) and gave me a copy of Favorite Recipes from Great Midwest Cooks, published by Midwest Living magazine.

Leafing through its many recipes that reminded me of my childhood, and lo and behold, on page 130 there was a pie that might be It. I hurried to the kitchen to see if I had frozen rhubarb, and I made the pie as directed. Bingo!

No wonder I had been going down the wrong path. While I remembered it as a “cream” pie, there is no cream or custard involved. Instead, it resembles a pecan pie base, with sugar and eggs forming the creamy filling that surrounds those gems of red rhubarb. The slightly crunchy topping gives it a nice finish.

The recipe requires four large stalks of fresh rhubarb. While rhubarb is available, chop and freeze 4-cup portions so you can enjoy this at other times of year. Just thaw and drain the rhubarb before using.

In the book, it is called Peoria Rhubarb Cream Pie. In one of the strange circles of life, the friend who gave me the book and my “lost” recipes has since moved to Peoria.

No matter what you call it or who first made it, I think you will find this a simple and slightly new way to use a few cups of the first “fruit” of the spring season. Maybe it will become a happy memory for you, too.

Judith Dunbar Hines is director of culinary arts and events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, which operates Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand.

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