Did you know that rhubarb is also known as pie plant? I hadn’t heard, (or at least I didn’t remember hearing), rhubarb called pie plant, (or pieplant), until I lived in Dubuque. However, a little online digging shows that term pie plant has been in written use since 1838. If you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, you might recall that it from a passage in The First Four Years -Laura was cooking for the threshers, the first dinner in her very own little house, and was running through the menu: “There was pie plant in the garden; she must make a couple of pies.”
A discussion of the term came up last month when I attended a meeting Historic Foodies, a local group with an interest in using recipes from the cookbooks of yesteryear. We were using The Iowa City Cook Book, and on page 181 one of our members found the recipe below. The cookbook dates from 1898 and is chock-full of recipes that will invite much discussion. You might just recognize the names of prominent Iowa City residents of the past. In fact, while we at the meeting we consulted Margaret Keyes book Nineteenth century home architecture of Iowa City to see if we could locate the recipe writer’s house. When we did we pulled up the Iowa City assessors website to find out if the house was extant. It was tremendous fun and we found a good number of the names in Dr. Keyes’ book and many of the houses are still here!
So what does all of this have to do with Irving B. Weber? First, Weber wrote the introduction to Dr. Keyes book. Second, while Weber’s mother doesn’t have any recipes in the cookbook, some of his parent’s neighbors do. Third, we are just about to celebrate Irving B Weber Days, a full month of programming and displays dedicated to local history. Fourth, the Historic Foodies will be providing refreshments from the Iowa City Cook Book for a program during Weber Days. Make sure you mark your calendar to come to Rachel Wobeter’s talking to tour of Iowa City food history. Rachel will share her research on what Iowa City folk ate between 1830 and 1900 on Wednesday, May 20 at 7 p.m. The program will air live on Library Channel 2o.
And finally, what does pie plant have to do with with Irving Weber? Well, here’s what I think, I bet you anything Irving ate pie plant in either a pie or as a sauce or maybe even like I did as a child, by dipping the stalk in the sugar bowl and taking a great big bite of sour delight.