Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Not sweet on the veggie’s tartness? That flavor actually makes it good for desserts. When combined with sugar for a cake or pie, rhubarb creates a sweet-and-sour experience.
Not sweet on rhubarb’s tartness? That flavor actually makes it good for desserts.
You may start to see rhubarb at farmers markets and grocery stores soon.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
When I lived in Leadville, Colo., as a child, my parents were practically kids themselves. Thousands of miles from their own parents, they gravitated toward a warm, loving couple named Lee and Viola Rhodus.
I remember that my surrogate grandparents' back yard butted up against my elementary school playground, and that Mrs. Rhodus' flower garden burst with the tiny blue stars of forget-me-nots. I recall that we were invited to their house for Thanksgiving, and that Mr. Rhodus was the first person we called after our truck got stuck in the mud during a surprise gully-washer.
But besides my memories, I have only one other reminder of the couple, with whom we gradually lost touch after moving back east in the early 1980s. It is Mrs. Rhodus' recipe for rhubarb cake.
Mom reminds me that our house in Leadville had two huge rhubarb plants in the back yard, but she never cooked with it because she hates the tart vegetable. (Yes, it is a vegetable, but most people think it is a fruit.)
Not wanting it to go to waste, Mom gave a mess of rhubarb to Mrs. Rhodus, who apparently refused to believe that anyone could dislike it.
"I gave her a bunch of rhubarb and she made a cake and brought it over and said 'Well here, if you don't like rhubarb, you'll like this cake,' " Mom said.
And in fact, she did. While my mother still will not eat rhubarb prepared in any other way, she held on to this recipe. It's a good thing, because I love rhubarb.
Back in Virginia, my real grandmother sometimes baked strawberry-rhubarb pies. My sister, who apparently takes after my mother, would dig out the strawberries and eat the crust but leave the rhubarb, which she said looked like "human flesh." This came from a girl who called Swiss cheese "dirty feet cheese."
Rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family. The edible stems look like red celery stalks, while the large leaves resemble those of an elephant ear plant. A lot of rhubarb is grown in hothouses, but the plants will grow well outdoors in Virginia.
We're entering rhubarb season now, so you may start to see it at farmers markets and grocery stores. Fresh rhubarb should have firm, crunchy stalks that are blemish-free, and it should be tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Those who do not like rhubarb may be averse to its intense tartness. That sour flavor is what makes the vegetable such a great candidate for desserts — like sour cherries, when combined with sugar for a cake or pie, rhubarb creates a lovely sweet-and-sour experience. It is so well-known for these applications that some call rhubarb "pie plant."
Rhubarb also makes good jams and dessert sauces, but if you want to try a savory take on the ingredient, consider a chutney that you can serve with meat.
No matter how you cook it, I'm sure Viola Rhodus would have approved.
Viola Rhodus' Rhubarb Cake
This is similar to a spice cake with the addition of chopped rhubarb. If you are new to rhubarb, chop it in very small pieces and see how you like it. This cake also features a sweet, nutty crust on top. Pecans or walnuts work well, but you can choose any nuts you like.
For the cake:
For the topping:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
2. For the cake, cream margarine or butter with 1 cup brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla, and mix well.
3. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt and add alternately with the soured milk to the egg mixture. Mix well after each addition. Fold in rhubarb.
4. Spoon batter into greased pan. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over the batter. Bake the cake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Adapted from "Pies Sweet and Savory" by Caroline Bretherton. Rhubarb or strawberry-rhubarb pie are both fantastic with vanilla ice cream.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Arrange one pie crust in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.
3. Combine rhubarb, orange zest, sugar, salt and flour in a bowl and stir to mix. Add strawberries and toss until coated. Spoon fruit mixture into the pie dish, doming it slightly. Dot filling with pieces of butter.
4. Drape the second pie crust over the filling and crimp the edges together. Cut a steam vent in the center of the pie.
5. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes. If the crust begins to get too brown before the fruit inside is done, cover pie with aluminum foil.
Spiced Rhubarb Chutney
Serve this chutney with pork tenderloin or grilled sausages. Adapted from Epicurious.com.
1. Combine first eight ingredients in a large, heavy Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
2. Add rhubarb, onion and dried cherries; increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday