When I was a little girl in the 1950’s we would make the trip to the small community of Peel, Arkansas on Memorial Day weekend to attend church service, decorate the graves and partake in the noon meal my parents referred to as “Dinner on the Ground.“ There would be service in the old Peel church, no air conditioning and HARD benches. The sermon was long, but finally and at long last the preacher closed his Bible and the benediction was said.
Many church ladies specialized in a dish. Dinner on the ground wasn't complete without Aunt Joy’s chocolate pie or her chicken and dumplings. Grandma always took an assortment of pies, including my favorite Rhubarb and Gooseberry. Food was placed on long tables covered with a kaleidoscope of tablecloths. Fried chicken, spaghetti, chicken and dressing, casseroles, stews, baked hams and roasts, vegetable casseroles, corn pudding, purple-hull or crowder peas, sliced tomatoes, green onions fresh out of the garden, sweet, dill and beet pickles, chow-chow, jello salads, macaroni and cheese and deviled eggs, corn bread and homemade rolls, banana pudding, lemon meringue pies, apple cakes, and peach cobblers, and lots of iced tea. With their plates groaning under the weight of the food, people found a spot in the shade and "dug in!" Sometimes families brought old quilts or blankets to sit on.
Tradition said everybody must eat until they are absolutely stuffed. A lot of teasing went on, such as "Are you coming back for seconds already?" and "Gluttony is a sin, brother, so I'll save you from sin by eating that last piece of pie for you." The song leader would accuse the preacher of breaking in line to get more food. "Now what kind of way is that for a preacher to act?" The preacher would reply, "Well, the Bible says 'Man shall not live by bread alone,' and so I aim to get me some of Sister Mamie’s chicken and dumplings." It did people a lot of good to be able to laugh, to open up.
The day was filled with visiting and reminiscing for the adults and the kids would run amuck playing tag and getting in trouble for being too rambunctious!
Rhubarb pie is my favorite pie on Earth. It’s that intense tartness balanced with just enough sweetness and a flaky crust that I adore. I love the beautiful ruby red vegetable and it’s one of the things I associate with Springtime!
Grandma Keeling's Rhubarb Pie
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 ¼ cup Crisco shortening
1 tablespoon vinegar
Cut shortening into flour, add salt. Beat egg, vinegar and water. Add to flour mixture and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup cornstarch
1½ pounds rhubarb, small diced (about five cups)
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Roll out your dough into a large rectangle about 3/16th of an inch thick. Invert your pie plate on the dough and use the rest for strips.
Lay the the dough into the pie plate leaving about an inch of dough overhanging the edge. Then use a pastry wheel or knife to cut nine ¾-inch strips the length of the pie plate. When your dough is ready, combine the sugar, spices and cornstarch and stir to distribute the spices and cornstarch. In a large bowl, toss the sugar mixture with the rhubarb until it’s evenly coated. Pour the rhubarb mixture into the pie plate. Place five strips of dough horizontally at even intervals across the pie. Fold the first, third and fifth strips back to the edge and lay one strip of dough vertically across the horizontal strips. Fold the first, third and fifth horizontal strips back then fold the second and fourth strips back to the first vertical strip. Lay a second vertical strip an equal distance from the first one. Fold the second and fourth strips back. Repeat the process with the final lattice strips.
Place pie on a baking sheet and bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hour or until the fruit is bubbling and hot and the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before cutting.