Kitchn Love Letters

Edna Lewis’ No-Frills Pie Makes Rhubarb Shine in a Way I Didn’t Know Was Possible

published May 30, 2021
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Credit: Nicole Rufus

While trying out fancy cooking techniques is one of my favorite parts of being in the kitchen, there’s something admirable about cooks who keep things simple. That’s why I admire Edna Lewis, the queen of simplicity! Her recipes (many of which she learned from her mother and family when she was growing up in Virginia) aren’t about being flashy — they’re about using basic cooking methods to make really flavorful food.

I respect Lewis for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that she was able to turn me, a rhubarb skeptic, into a convert. All it took was one (simple) recipe: the rhubarb pie recipe from her renowned cookbook The Taste of Country Cooking. To be fair, I’m not sure I’d ever given rhubarb a real try: I never cared for strawberry-rhubarb desserts as a kid and have steered clear of rhubarb ever since. But after having great success with many of Lewis’ recipes, I knew if anyone could convince me, it’d be her. And I was right.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

Lewis’ pie is a no-fuss, no-frills recipe that makes rhubarb shine in a way I didn’t think was possible. You don’t need any special equipment, and the dough can be mixed by hand, which I live for. Plus, I greatly appreciate that she calls for lard in the crust. Don’t get me wrong — an all-butter pie crust is absolutely delicious. But as someone who has been reduced to tears over the butter in my pie crust melting too quickly, I can confidently say I much prefer lard. It’s easier to work with and still produces that flakiness we’re all after.

In typical Lewis fashion, the filling for the pie is just rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, and a touch of freshly grated nutmeg. I love that she lets the main ingredient do its thing without making it overly complicated. The sugar amount — just 2/3 cup — is perfect. It’s enough to bring out the rhubarb flavor without making the filling cloyingly sweet, and the freshly grated nutmeg elevates the taste of the entire pie.

Before adding the filling, you line the bottom crust with a mixture of sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg. This keeps it perfectly crispy as it bakes, so you don’t have to worry about leakage as the rhubarb filling starts to bubble in the oven. The end product is a flaky, golden-brown pastry with a gorgeous tart filling. Throw a big dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream on there and you’ve got a little slice of heaven.

Thank you, Edna, for reminding me how refreshing it is to pare things back and focus on making the main ingredients the best versions of themselves.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

If You’re Making Edna’s Lewis’ Rhubarb Pie, a Few Tips

  1. The dough is rolled quite thin, so don’t be alarmed. The dough for this pie ends up being rolled out much thinner than in other recipes I’ve used, but it puffs up beautifully in the oven with no soggy bottoms in sight.
  2. Add more water to the dough, if necessary. The dough should be sticky before it’s refrigerated, so if it’s still a bit dry add more water 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. If you love a really thick crust, double the recipe. If you’re someone who prefers really thick crust, go ahead and double the dough recipe.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.