Heeey pie club! Get your note-taking pencils ready... time for a botany lesson. Because of a special request by club member Rip Smops, of OH for “more fruit pies”, this month’s pie is a very cool old Shaker pie recipe: Rhubarb Angelica Pie! What? What’s that you say? Rhubarb isn’t a fruit? Good for you, that is absolutely correct! So remember last month, when I mentioned I was an Ornithologist? Well, don’t ask me how, but somehow I’m currently teaching a college course in flowering plants. And since my mind is swimming with fascinating botanical and taxonomic details, i feel compelled to teach you something.
Lecture 1, Fruit: a fruit, botanically, is the mature ovary of a flowering plant, which encases the seed(s). Sometimes fruit is fleshy and sweet, but it can also be, oh... an acorn, green bean, or a burr stuck to your sock. Basically, if it has a seed(s) inside, it’s a fruit.
Quiz : name 3 foods we call vegetables that are actually fruits (besides a tomato, that one is too easy).
Lecture 2, Vegetables: pretty much the rest of the whole plant *besides* the fruit or flower is the “vegetative” part of the plant. And any part of the plant you eat that falls in this category (everything else) is, technically, a vegetable (e.g. stems, leaves, shoots, roots). So both rhubarb AND angelica are vegetables, since we don’t eat the parts that contain the seeds.
Lecture 3, Plant Anatomy: OK. so check out the figure at the right. The stem is the main axis of the plant, which bears the leaves, branches, flowers, buds, etc. The “stem” thing on a leaf is really a petiole, and the “stem” from the true stem to the flower is really a peduncle.
Lecture 4, Taxonomy: The “fruit” rhubarb is really the petiole of the large basal leaf of Rheum rhubarbarum. The “stem” is so reduced, that the leaves all appear to come from straight from the roots of the plant. Later in the season, R. rhubarbarum sends up a long peduncle with a cluster of small white flowers on top. The herb Angelica ( A. archangelica, a member of the carrot family, Apiaceae... formerly Umbelliferae), is a tall plant common in old-time European herb gardens. The strongly flavored roots are used to flavor liqueurs and the stems are commonly preserved in sugar and eaten as candy. In the recipe that follows, you should use the stem of a fresh plant.
Lecture 5, Poisons: As a defense against herbivores, many plants produce poisons in some or all of their parts. If you’re familiar with the wildflowers of N. America, you might know that there are several species of Angelica native here, but **DON”T** use them as a substitute in this recipe for the Garden Angelica. Not only are they not tasty, but they are very similar in appearance and genetically to the very poisonous water hemlock... so don’t mess around! Furthermore, only eat the red petioles of the rhubarb plant, because rhubarb produces toxins (oxalic acid) in high levels in it’s leaves.
Lecture 6, Gardens, Shakers, Pie: Just hang in there, we’re almost through... I’ll cover “The Shakers, Who are they?” another time. If you want to try growing some Angelica in your own garden, you can buy plants online at www.richters.com, a cool Canadian herb company. Just be aware that Angelica and Rhubarb are both perennial herbs that require a couple growing seasons before they will be mature enough to harvest. AND FINALLY........ here is the pie of the month, enjoy :
1/4 C. Diced Angelica stem
4 C. Rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 1/2 C. Honey
6 T flour (but i prefer to substitute 1/4 C instant tapioca)
1/4 tsp salt
2 T butter
pastry for a two-crust 9” pie
Mix first 5 ingredients. Pour into pie shell. Dot with butter. Seal with top crust, cut vents in top crust. Bake at 350 F for 45-55 minutes or until filling is bubbling.