And when it came to the pie–Mr Perry, a neighbor of Laura’s parents, tasted his first. Then he lifted the top crust, and reaching for the sugar bowl, spread sugar thickly all over his pie. “That is the way I like it,” he said. “If there is no sugar in the pie, then every fellow can sweeten his own as much as he likes without hurting the cook’s feelings.”
Mr Perry had made the meal a jolly one. [ … ] Everyone laughed and talked and was very friendly, but Laura felt mortified about her beans and her pie without any sugar in. She had been so hurried when she made the pies; but how could she have been so careless? Pieplant was so sour, that first taste must have been simply terrible.
—The First Four Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Schatzi: I wondered for years what “pie plant” was, only to discover it was simply rhubarb! Spring time in the Pacific Northwest is rhubarb time, and I promised myself (and Maiya!) a rhubarb upside down cake. Unlike poor Laura, I didn’t have to worry about remembering to sweeten the tart rhubarb since upside down cake is characterized by a gooey layer of sugar and butter on a moist yellow cake. Though it’s a decidedly homely dessert, it is a satisfyingly sweet-tart finish to any springtime meal.
- 4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 stalks)
- zest of one orange
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups brown sugar
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 cup butter
- 2-½ cups white sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2-½ cups buttermilk
- 3-3/4 cups cake flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2-¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 2-½ teaspoons baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan, paying close attention to pan sides. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
2. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, mixing until just combined.
3. Place the brown sugar in the pan, patting down evenly. Cut butter into pieces and scatter on top of the brown sugar. Toss rhubarb pieces with orange zest, then place rhubarb pieces on top of sugar and butter in a single even layer. Pour batter on top evenly and place on center rack on the oven.
4. Bake in the preheated oven 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to free them from the sides. Now invert the cake onto a surface such as a tray, and carefully free from pan.