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The prince and his pie

Recipe Swap: It's time for rhubarb!


This legendary tale of a royal told to hang on to his cutlery is a Canadian favourite. It was no gaff nor embarrassing breach of etiquette. We love this story and we retell it because it’s how we like to see ourselves — helpful, unpretentious, warm hearted — no matter who we’re with.

I have no idea if it actually happened. Most references I’ve found say our prince and pie story is just a well-worn Canadian myth, although the late CBC Radio’s Peter Gzowski apparently tried to trace it and concluded it happened in northern B.C., sometime between 1911 and 1916, and involved a Yukon waitress and Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, third son of Queen Victoria, and first member of the Royal Family to become Governor General of Canada.

The late Lois Hole, Canadian gardener and lieutenant-governor of Alberta, also known as “the Queen of Hugs” for her tendency to break with protocol, gave us another charming story of a prince and a piece of pie.

In an introduction for Rhubarb — More Than Just Pies (University of Alberta Press, 2000) she wrote of serving as chancellor of the University of Alberta in 1999 and devising a plan to present Japanese Prince and Princess Takamodo a fresh-baked rhubarb pie during a reception at Alberta’s Government House. She’d learned the prince had acquired a love of rhubarb while studying in Canada and missed eating it. It was a last-minute idea, and not on the official agenda, she wrote, so it “raised more than a few eyebrows in the provincial protocol office.” But she convinced officials that presenting a pie would not cause “a diplomatic incident.” It didn’t. In fact, he was absolutely delighted by the gesture.

I was thinking about these stories while listening to news reports of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall briefly visiting friendly Manitoba this spring. I hope they had pie too, and I hope it was rhubarb. Because a sweet slice of rhubarb pie is about as down home, happy to see ya as we can get, eh?

The rhubarb in our gardens is perfect for pie making and including in all kinds of other recipes in early June. Here are three recipes to use it at its most tender stage.

Rhubarb Quick Bread

Rhubarb — More Than Just Pies is one of my favourite cookbooks containing recipes for soups, pies, cobblers, crisps and many other ways to prepare this abundant plant that faithfully returns to our gardens year after year.

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. oil
  • 2 c. brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2-1/2 c. rhubarb, finely diced
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 3 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9×5-inch loaf pans. Combine eggs, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla; beat with mixer until thick and foamy. Stir in rhubarb and walnuts. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg and allspice. Add dry ingredients to the rhubarb mixture and stir just until blended. Divide batter between two prepared pans. Bake for 70 minutes or until cooked through. Cool in pans, then turn onto rack.

Makes 2 loaves.

Source: Rhubarb – More Than Just Pies, by Sandi Vitt and Michael Hickman, 2000. University of Alberta Press

Rhubarb Pinwheel Cobbler

  • 1-1/2 c. sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 6 c. rhubarb, diced
  • 1-1/2 c. biscuit mix
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • Butter, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 F. Prepare lemon so that the juice can be used in fruit mixture and zest can be used in the pinwheels. Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Add juice from lemon and water. Bring to boil, dissolving sugar. Add butter and rhubarb. Pour into 2-1/2-quart (2.5-litre) baking dish. Set into heated oven while preparing pinwheels. To make pinwheels, combine biscuit mix and 1 tbsp. of sugar. Stir oil into milk, add to dry ingredients. Mix lightly. Roll into rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Spread with butter. Mix remaining three tablespoons sugar with lemon zest and sprinkle half of this mixture over dough. Roll jelly roll fashion. Cut into eight slices and place on rhubarb in baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining zest and sugar. Bake for 25 minutes.

Source: Rhubarb – More Than Just Pies, by Sandi Vitt and Michael Hickman, 2000. University of Alberta Press

Rhubarb Sour CreamCoffee Cake

This delicious cake recipe is found in Prairie Fruit Cookbook — The Essential Guide for Picking, Preserving and Preparing Fruit by Getty Stewart, the Winnipeg-based professional home economist who devised the Fruit Share project for harvesting and sharing backyard fruit. She got it from her friend and neighbour Sherilyn Braun McDonough. I made this recipe recently and it will become one of my favourites too.

  • 1/2 c. butter softened
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1-1/2 c. rhubarb (diced or frozen)
  • 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans (optional)


  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

(If this topping is too rich, use a crumb topping of 3 tbsp. chopped walnuts, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tbsp. brown sugar sprinkled on top of the cake just before baking.)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream mixing just until combined after each addition. Stir in rhubarb (if using frozen, do not thaw) and nuts (if using). Spoon into greased 9×13-inch pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. In small saucepan, combine topping ingredients and heat until butter melts and sauce is a creamy texture. Pour warm sauce over slightly cooled cake. Serve warm.

Makes 18 to 24 slices.

Source: Prairie Fruit Cookbook, by Getty Stewart, 2012. Pursuit Communications Winnipeg.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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