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A plant of the genus Rheum, the leaf-stalks of which are acid, and are used in making pies. — Webster, 1882

The Leader’s thanks are due Miss Eliza Wilder for supplying the editor’s table with some delicious pieplant. – The De Smet Leader, May 31, 1884

Pieplant is rhubarb, a hearty perennial vegetable that grows best in the cooler climate of the northern United States. Rhubarb will not grow well if summer temperatures are in the eighties or higher.

Rhubarb leaves are not edible because they contain levels of oxalic acid that can cause illness and even death, although it’s okay to add the leaves to your compost pile. In order to prevent people for mistaking rhubarb leaves for something yummy, it is often grown away from other garden plants. Rhubarb is grown for its acidic red and/or green stalks, which are ready to harvest early in the spring. The stalks contain vitamin C (welcomed by the pioneers following a winter of no fresh fruits or vegetables), but they are mostly water and rhubarb is sometimes combined with strawberries – an early fruit – to make the first pies of the spring. Pieplant is tart and acidic and needs a good bit of sugar. In These Happy Golden Years, Ma bakes a pieplant pie on the Fourth of July, and in The First Four Years, Laura bakes one for the threshing crew just after her marriage. She was so flustered that she forgot to add the sugar! Although Ma and Laura had pieplant growing in the garden and its preservation isn’t mentioned in the Little House books, it can be canned or frozen today for use out of season.

The following are some Little House era recipes for rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb Stalks Pie. Rhubarb stalks are the earliest ingredient for pies which the spring offers. The stalks should be cut into small bits, and stewed very tender. These are dear pies, for they take an enormous quantity of sugar. Rhubarb stalks are stewed, sweetened and seasoned like apple pies, in proportions suited to the sweetness to the taste; there is no way to judge but by your own taste. Always remember it is more easy to add seasoning than to diminish it. — The Farmer’s Monthly Visitor, June 15, 1839, 87.

Rhubarb Pie. Peel and break the stalks, pour water on, and boil a minute, then drain and mash; sweeten to taste; for every pie add 1 egg and the yolk of one; beat well together and bake in open crust; beat the remaining white with two tablespoons sugar, and when the pie is done, spread over and set in the edge of the oven until a light fawn color; any fruits can be used this way if liked. — Mrs. E.J. Wadsworth in Royal Baking Powder Co.’s My Favorite Receipt (New York: Royal Baking Co., 1886), 28.

Pieplant Pie. Mix half a teacup of white sugar and one heaping teaspoonful of flour together, sprinkle over the bottom crust, then add the pieplant, cut up fine; sprinkle over this another half teacup of sugar and heaping tablespoon flour; bake fully three-quarters of an hour in a slow oven. Or, stew the pieplant, sweeten, add grated rind and juice of a lemon, and the yolks of two eggs, and bake and frost like lemon pie. — Mrs. Mary G. Smith, Temperance Cook Book (San Jose, California: Mercury Book and Job Printing House, 1887), 136.

Rhubarb Pie. Strip off the skin, and slice thin, the tender stalks of rhubarb. Put the rhubarb in deep plates lines with pie crust, with a thick layer of sugar to each layer of rhubarb, and over the top a sprinkling of flour. A little grated lemon peel may be added. Place over the top a thin crust. Press tightly round the edge of the plate and perforate it with a fork, that the crust may not burst while baking and let the juices of the pie escape. Bake about one hour in a slow oven. This rhubarb pie must not be quick-baked. — H.I. Bilts, Professor H.I. Blits’ Methods of Canning Fruits and Vegetables and Berries (Cincinnati: H.I. Bilts, 1890), 426.

Pie Plant Pie. Place in a chopping bowl and chop up fine, turn off the juice. Line your tins with pie crust, fill up the pan with chopped plant, and one tea cup full of sugar. Three tablespoonsful of cream or a piece of butter size of a hickory nut, cut in small pieces and place around on the plate, cover with pie crust and bake in hot oven. — Fred S. Thompson, Rhubarb or Pie Plant Culture (Milwaukee: J.H. Yewdale & Sons Co., 1894), 71.


pieplant (THGY 21; FFY)
     pie (THGY 21; FFY)