Grandma Norma’s Rhubarb Custard Pie

Norma’s homemade rhubarb custard pie.

“Everyone seems to love this pie,” said Norma, the grandmother of a family friend. I got to enjoy the pie in person at a graduation party thrown at her home recently. (See Secrets to Summer-Long Rhubarb here.) The custard is silky smooth, and the rhubarb creates a perfect balance between sharply tart and softly crisp. 

“It’s actually a combination of a couple a recipes from my wedding cookbook,” Norma says. Her 1953 first edition Better Homes and Garden Cookbook was an early married life purchase, made with saved-up S&H Green Stamps. (Although, if you ask her sister-in-law, “all the girls” got the BHG cookbook as wedding gifts from family members. Family history…)

Bob and Norma’s 1902 farmhouse.

“Once we moved out here to the farm in the early 1990s, Bob started growing lots of rhubarb. I love it in pie, and so does he. One day, I just decided to put a few things together, and now I always make this pie as long we have fresh rhubarb. Usually, I can make it up to Thanksgiving, if there’s no frost.” Although the pie can be made with frozen rhubarb–it MUST be well drained–Norma prefers the fresh. “The texture is much better.” The pie is made in an ungreased glass pie plate, on an unbaked crust. “You can blind bake it if you like, but we like a softer bottom crust,” says Norma’s husband, Bob.

Bake in this clever pie server for perfect slices every time. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

First, Norma prepares the rhubarb, which begins to macerate as she works on the custard base. Then, the rhubarb goes into the unbaked pie crust, and is topped with the custard. The pie is baked at 350º until a sharp knife comes out clean. She depends on her aluminum pie server to get perfect slices out every time, as this pie can be a bit fragile.

RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE (Adapted from 1953 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

I. Rhubarb Mixture
Cut rhubarb into 1 inch chunks–you need 3 cups chopped rhubarb total.
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
3 TBS flour
dash salt
Mix well and set aside while you make the custard. No need to refrigerate.

II. CUSTARD
3 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to room temperature
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp vanilla (pure Mexican vanilla if you have it)

Scald milk and set aside in large mixing bowl to cool to lukewarm, nearly room temperature. (You may choose to do this before you chop and measure the rhubarb, as it can take a while to cool.) In separate bowl, whip eggs to light froth. Add dry ingredients to eggs, whipping in completely after each addition. Add egg mixture slowly to milk, whipping egg mixture into milk until completely combined. Mixture should look light yellow and may be a bit frothy.

Place rhubarb in pie shell first, spreading in a even layer. Pour custard mixture over rhubarb. Bake at 350º, 45-60 minutes, or until knife comes out clean.

Norma’s giant fuschia hollyhocks.

Norma says she usually triples this recipe and does three pies at a time, and it takes an hour for the pies to bake to the desired doneness. I think the pie tastes best served outside on the patio near her flower gardens!