May and June bring bright stalks of tart rhubarb to our gardens in Northern Michigan, signaling the start of a short but beloved baking season filled with pies, crisps, bars, sauces and jams. (Plus pretty pink beverages!) 

The celery-like stalks are prized for their mouth-puckering, tangy flavor, which becomes more delicate when cooked and complements sweet breads and desserts. Because rhubarb is often used as a fruit, it earned the nickname “pie plant,” but it’s actually a member of the buckwheat family and so, a vegetable. The herbaceous perennial thrives in cool, damp, Northern climates like ours. Read on this month as we savor each pink stalk.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Recipe by Meagan Alvarado

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 8 ounce can crushed pineapple (not drained)
  • 4 cups rhubarb (chopped into 3/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Method

Mix eggs, sugar, flour, 3 tablespoons of milk and pineapple. Add rhubarb to mixture. Pour into one unbaked pie crust (store-bought or use the recipe below). Use an additional pie crust to cut strips and weave lattice carefully over the top of the pie. Crimp edges. Melt the butter into the remaining 3 tablespoons of milk and brush over the lattice crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.

Pie Crust

Recipe by Meagan Alvarado

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup Crisco
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water

Method

Cut flour, salt and shortening with patty wire until crumbly. Slowly sprinkle ice-cold water over flour mixture, pausing to mix until dough forms. Gently form into a ball. Split dough in half to yield two crusts.

*For a single crust (used for cream pies or fresh berry pie): place crust in a pie dish and pinch edges. Place pie weights (or dry beans) on the crust and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.

Rhubarb Lemonade

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 6-ounce can frozen pink lemonade
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 16-ounce diet lemon-lime soda

Method

Place rhubarb, sugar, pink lemonade and water in medium saucepan. Cook 10 minutes or until rhubarb is soft. Mash rhubarb and strain to get all the juice out. Refrigerate the syrup. Mix syrup and a bottle of lemon-lime soda and serve.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cocktails

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sugar (or up to 1/2 cup, depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 pound rhubarb stalks, cleaned and diced
  • 1 quart strawberries, cleaned, hulled and halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-2 bottles sparkling wine

Method

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add rhubarb and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Add strawberries and lemon juice and simmer for 10 minutes more. Allow mixture to chill. Press juices through a sieve. Pour 2 tablespoons strawberry-rhubarb juice into a glass, and top with sparkling wine.

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