Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and Nona Mac’s Southern Pastry, Vegan Style

Stalks of freshly harvested rhubarb

My plan was to write about rhubarb and share a healthy rhubarb pie recipe. That’s because rhubarb is low in calories and has an assortment of vitamins and minerals that are good for us. And, it’s in season.

Trouble is, most rhubarb recipes are loaded with sugar to cut its strong tart flavor. I asked several friends if they had a rhubarb pie recipe I could use and they all told me they don’t eat rhubarb anymore because they’re trying to avoid sugar.

Connie McCabe: “I don’t have any rhubarb recipes, sorry. I generally stew it with lots of sugar! But I’m off sugar these days, so don’t know what I’ll do!”

Instead, she offered up her great grandmother’s pie crust recipe. Mary Gertrude McCurdy Case was her name. Connie’s mother’s grandmother — known as Nona Mac. That’s her on the far right in an old family photo.

The McCurdy women

An interesting bit of trivia that Connie discovered only a couple of years ago is that the McCurdys were from Maine (Connie was raised in NYC). There is even a famous landmark bearing the McCurdy name. “The next time you go to Lubec,” she says, “notice the McCurdy Smokehouse, which is now a museum.The smokehouse is definitely connected to my family. It may be cousins or uncles or generations apart or whatever, but the McCurdys (my McCurdys) were in the fishing/herring business in Eastport and Lubec.

The McCurdy Smokehouse Museum, a landmark in Lubec, Maine

The McCurdy Smokehouse Museum
Courtesy Hilary Nangle, Maine Travel Maven

Back to that pie crust recipe. It’s called Southern pastry, and includes a cup of butter. Connie happens to be an avowed vegan, so she substitutes Earth Balance, a non-dairy spread for the butter. “My great grandmother would be rolling over in her grave!”

Nona Mac’s Southern Pastry, Vegan Style (courtesy Connie McCabe)

2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter (or substitute non-dairy spread for vegan option)
6-8 tbsp ICE water

  1. Mix flour and salt
  2. Cut shortening in until fine consistency, like very small peas (I use the food processor, works well if you keep an eye on it.
  3. Add water 1 tbsp at a time until dough is workable
  4. Exceedingly rich, handle deftly

(Thorough chilling makes pastry easier to handle — mom’s advice, which I follow, refrigerating dough for an hour or so)

Makes two 9-inch shells

Strawberry rhubarb pie

Still determined to find a healthy rhubarb pie recipe that might be a slightly healthier choice, I finally came across one on care2.com. Take note: It isn’t sugar free, because honey is sugar. I’ll write more on that topic in another post.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
(the original recipe says vegan, but honey is not vegan)

1 double pie shell
4 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup honey (or try agave nectar for a vegan option)
6 tablespoons arrowroot
2 cups thickly sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour

  1. Fit bottom crust into a 10-inch pie plate. Refrigerate the dough and rolled-out crust.
  2.  Put sliced rhubarb into a colander with a bowl underneath. Pour honey over rhubarb and allow to drain 1 hour. In a saucepan, mix arrowroot with half of the drained honey. Heat until thickened over low heat, then add the rest of the honey
  3.  Preheat oven to 350F.
  4. Mix rhubarb and strawberries together in bowl. Add honey mixture along with cinnamon and flour. Gently toss to mix.
  5.  Pour into prepared pie shell. Roll out top crust and place on top. Join crusts, fluting edges. Slash top so steam can escape.
  6.  Bake one hour in preheated oven. Allow to cool, then refrigerate a few hours to set (if you can stand to wait that long).

Serves 8 to 10

Need more recipes to share

If you decide to make a pie using these recipes, let me know how it turned out. Delicious, I hope! And feel free to share some of your own healthy recipes.

Thank you Connie, for Nona Mac’s Southern Pastry, vegan style. I’m sure she forgives you under the circumstances!

Check out the Catching Health list of where to pick strawberries in Maine. If you’re aware of farms that grow organic strawberries, please let me know. Use the comment form below or send me an email. Thanks!

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.