Recipe: Playhouse in the Lilacs and Pies: Mud and Rhubarb Crumb Custard Pie


This morning while I watched my puppy as he explored the back yard, I found myself admiring my lilac bush.  It is not blooming yet, but will be soon. I love lilacs.  I like the color, scent and the memories they evoke.   Blooming lilac bushes take me back to a time long ago when they were transformed into the roof and walls of my very lovely play house on the farm.

My playhouse did not come from a store nor was it made out of beautifully designed colorful plastics that include microwaves, cupboards, sink, stove, refrigerator with matching dishes, utensils and play food. Those types of playhouses did not even exist in my world.  If I wanted a play house, I had to build it myself from discarded farm resources.

I constructed my playhouse in the lilac bushes just up the hill from the cow pasture. The dark green leaves were my roof. I tied back many branches to make windows and doors and even sawed a few branches off to open up a couple of rooms.

The view from the place was magnificent!  Brilliantly blue summer skies hung over black and white Holstein cows and calves slowing moving over the bright green grass pasture grass. Blue-black farm fields stenciled with emerald rows of food growing to feed a hungry world. Then, there was grandmother’s flowers–pink, white and burgundy hollyhocks, pink cosmos, purple iris, feathery peonies. Lacey fairy whisper wings of asparagus plants that had gone to seed continuously waved at you from across the yard.

The furnishings of this home in the bushes were the result of my very little well-greased elbows. The cupboards, table, chairs, stove and refrigerator were made out of the wooden boxes left over from last year’s canning season. The boxes were decorated with beautiful illustrations of the fruit they had contained.  Their cheery colorful pictures really dressed up the place and contrasted nicely with the well swept dirt floor. Discarded old dish towels became curtains that  fluttered in the spring breeze.

The cupboards were filled with dishes and utensils that had been collected from the farm’s garbage pile.  Tuna fish cans become cereal bowls, empty maraschino cherry jars made do as glasses, the plastic lids from large coffee cans became plates and coffee cans themselves were cooking pots.

Entering the playhouse was transforming.  I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be.  I was only limited my own imagination and evacuation plans should the pigs get out. Many a time I attracted great parties of farm cats who joined me for tea.

The menu for my tea parties consisted of watered down dirt water and mud pies.  I could really make some remarkable mud pies.  For those of you who have never made a mud pie, I am here to tell you they can be a lot of work.  First you have to collect clean dirt. On a farm there is clean dirt and dirty dirt. The difference being clean dirt does not contain any animal waste.  Gathering clean dirt meant a hike out to the field with a bucket.

After returning with the dirt and filling your “flour” coffee can canister. You then needed to use your bucket to collect water from cow’s water tank. The water tank was only open on the cow’s side of the barbed wire topped with electric wire fence.  The danger of an unexpected electric jolt during the trip just added to the thrill of mud pie making.

After getting the basic ingredients together of dirt and water, wide blades of quack grass had to be picked. Without those you could not possibly make a lattice top for your pies. Weaving them together became an art form.

No mud pie would ever be complete without decoration. Garnishes had to gathered.  Oat, corn and soybean seed became colored sugar sprinkles and fuzzy fox tail weeds served as lit candles. If grandma wasn’t looking flower peddles really dressed up pie presentation.

Every child should have a place where they can go and pretend. In my mind’s eye, when in full bloom, my playhouse in those lilac bushes rivaled the beauty of the palaces of great kings. There in the filtered sunlight and shadows under that canopy of sweet-scented lavender flowers, imagination and creativity were set free while I dodged bees to make mud pies to feed to curious cows.

Rhubarb Crumb Custard Pie

When the lilacs bloom in Minnesota the rhubarb is ready to be made into jellies, cakes and pies.  This pie recipe is a classic and will not disappoint. It is best served warm with vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

1-9 inch Pie Crust ( unbaked)

Buttery Flaky Pie Crust:
1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, diced
1/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt.  Cut in butter with two knives, or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles course crumbs.  Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms into a ball.  Sometimes I do have to add an extra tablespoon or two of water.
Wrap in plastic and chill for 1-2 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to fit 9-inch pie plate.  Place dough in pie plate, spread out evenly and pinch the pie dough edges up until they are about 1/4 inch above pie plate rim.

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees 

Pie filling:
1 1⁄4 cups sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons flour
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups rhubarb, chopped into small pieces.  (If you want a pink colored filling do not peel the

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients for the filling. Stir in the beaten eggs. When thoroughly combined, add the chopped rhubarb.  Mix together well.  Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Crumble Topping:
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄4 cup butter
1 pinch salt

In a small mixing bowl combine sugar and flour. Using a fork, cut in the butter until the mixture becomes “crumbly”.

Sprinkle topping mixture over the rhubarb filling.

Bake for one hour.

This recipe was shared with me from Sylvia Britton.


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