The Pie Lover’s Delight

Rhubarb, a plant well known to pie and dessert lovers in Nebraska, has a long history in this state. Its use as a substitute for fruit in a newly settled country where fruit growing was limited made it popular with many pioneer housewives. Although the leaves were poisonous, the fleshy stalks were harvested and used for a variety of foods and medicines.

Rhubarb was used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes long before it found its way into kitchens and onto dining tables. The Columbus Journal on May 12, 1908, noted: “Though a vegetable, rhubarb is used in every respect as a fruit. Eaten stewed, so that the acids are tart in it, the stalk acts as a foe to gout and to rheumatism, for it neutralizes the uric acid that causes these things. It is also a specific for the complexion. Its acids fight valiantly with the noxious humors and gases in the body that otherwise would find outlet in the shape of rough and pimpled skin.” A beauty treatment popular in the days before commercial products were widely available recommended a shampoo of rhubarb, honey, and wine for enhancing blonde hair. 

The most popular use of this versatile plant was in pies and desserts. An early recipe for “Pie Plant Pies” from the Nebraska Advertiser (Brownville), of June 11, 1874, directed: “Peel the stems of the rhubarb and slice them in half-inch lengths, holding several stems in the hand at one time. With these fill the pie, sweetening it generously-about the same as for lemon pie, a small teacupful of sugar for a medium-sized pie-anointed with a great spoonful of water, dust over this a little dry flour, to thicken the juice a little, cover it with the upper crust and bake it slowly and thoroughly.”

Other culinary products made with rhubarb included beverages, jams and jellies, compotes, fritters, soufflés, cobblers, puddings, and sherbet. In 1896 S. P. Merman won a first prize for his rhubarb wine exhibited at the Douglas County Fair. The Omaha Daily Bee advised readers on May 1, 1901: “Rhubarb will make a delicious wine, which is a much safer beverage to indulge in if you wish to avoid unpleasant after effects.”

One drawback of cooking and baking with rhubarb was the amount of often scarce sugar needed to sweeten its tart taste. Some housewives substituted honey or molasses, if available, or added a pinch of soda so that the dish would require less sugar. Although fruit is now more readily available to Nebraskans than in earlier days, rhubarb is still found in grocery stores and home gardens, with rhubarb pie a Nebraska favorite. 


Photographer Solomon D. Butcher depicted a Custer County rhubarb patch and orchard in the early 1900s. The large leaves of the rhubarb plants are visible near the fence. NSHS RG2608-2204


From the Kearney Daily Hub, May 2, 1930.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.