Rhubarb

I think I’m addicted to rhubarb.  Obsessed at the very least.  It’s flavor is charming, old fashioned, familiar.  It’s easy to deal with, cleaning and cutting is effortless, and it works brilliantly as a preserve.  Why did this fruity vegetable ever fall out of favor?

It seems that rhubarb’s popularity was at a high point during the 1940s (dropping off as war rations curbed the sugar supply…but we have not that worry these days…).  About the same time that victory gardens, backyard chickens, and canning were the household norm.  Could it be that our current romance with rhubarb (it’s not just me, lots of food writers are penning their penchants for rhubarb these days) is following the modern trend of homemaking?  Or is it that folks are more in tune with the natural world when it comes to our diets, eating seasonally and locally, seeking out what is here and now, at its peak of freshness?  Or have we just come around to this humble, versatile, lovely flavor?

Farmers seem to enjoy growing rhubarb in Oregon.  There is an abundance at the market, here and there in late April & early May, everywhere by now.  And thanks to our cool spring, we have had an ideal growing season for rhubarb, which likes cold and rain (at least one vegetable isn’t complaining about the chilly, wet weather!).

Farmer Louann Bone of Greenville Farms, and her husband Sid, supply several local markets with fresh rhubarb and rhubarb jam.  “You can freeze it, too,” suggests Louann, “someone suggested cooking it first, but you don’t have to.  Just clean it and cut it up into chunks, put it in a plastic bag, and freeze it – then you can take it out for baking or making jam later.  It works just like fresh.”

You can find more on the history and medicinal qualities of rhubarb on the following sites:

High Altitude Rhubarb Organic Farm & Nursery
Yorkshire Rhubarb
The Rhubarb Compendium

And an amount of information on cultivating rhubarb here, and a general overview here, with links to additional references.

One of my favorite tidbits ascertained from a rhubarb site is that in 1657, rhubarb was such a popular curative drug in England that it could command three times the price of opium.  Ha!

I finished my last batch of Rhubarb and Rose Petal Jam yesterday, and started the 3-day process of Rhubarb Jam with Whole Strawberries (from Mes Confitures, by Christine Ferber – a book I want to cook from beginning to end, and am well on my way!).  My pantry is well supplied with Rhubarb Mostarda, Rhubarb & Grapefruit Jam (which I used for a mille-feuille dessert for The Open Kitchen Dinner in May), and Rhubarb Cordial.  We have been eating Rhubarb Vanilla Cakes for breakfast (which I demo’d at the Organic Gardening Event in May), and this week, there are Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies in our sites.  And maybe a rhubarb souffle…with strawberry sauce.  Then, I think, I’ll be satisfied for a while.

Here are some recipes:

Rhubarb Mostarda, an Italian mustard-fruit condiment, can be found on The Farmer’s Feast post: May Day Farm to Table Tour.  It is wonderful with cheeses, salami, & roast turkey, chicken, or pork (sandwiches or entrees).  It also makes a fantastic ham glaze or basting sauce for grilled chicken or pork chops.  I imagine it would be great with grilled sausages as well.

Rhubarb & Rose Petal Jam

A jam with a delicate rhubarb flavor and the scent of roses., this is one of my favorite rhubarb preserves.  Just as the rhubarb season begins to wane, the roses bud and bloom.  All roses are edible, but take heed – use only untreated & unsprayed roses, lest you poison yourself!

Rhubarb Meets Rose Petal

4 pounds tender fresh rhubarb
5 cups sugar
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped, the cores and seeds reserved in a cheesecloth bag
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups rose petals that have a strong perfume, the white “heel” (the tip near their base) trimmed with scissors and discarded
rose water

Slice the rhubarb crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces and layer it in a glass or ceramic bowl with the sugar and the chopped apples, including the sachet of seeds & cores.  Cover the bowl with parchment paper and let the fruit sit and macerate for at least 12 hours.

Tip the contents of the bowl, including the sachet, into a preserving pan (a non-reactive, heavy-bottomed, wider than it is deep pot).  Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat, stirring now and again.

Add the lemon juice and boil over a medium-high flame, skimming thoroughly the scum or foam that rises to the surface.  When the jellying point is reached (about 15 minutes), remove the pan from the heat and discard the bag of apple cores and seeds.  Allow the jam to cool for 10 minutes.  This is important because if you add the rose petals to the boiling hot jam, they will sizzle and crisp, and much of their flavor will dissipate.

Stir in the rose petals.  Ladle the jam into warm sterilized jars.  Sprinkle the top of the jarred jam with a few drops of rose water and seal.  Process in a boiling waterbath (10 minutes for half-pints, 15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts).  Use within a year.

Rhubarb Vanilla Cake
makes 1 9-inch cake

My rhubarb cake was demonstrated at the Organic Gardening Magazine Event in Portland, OR in early May, and later that month at their event at the Brentwood Farmers Market in Los Angeles, CA.  The audience enjoyed it with their coffee as part of our breakfast cooking demonstrations.  Cake for breakfast?  Of course – it’s fruit, eggs, and carbohydrates all in one delicious bite!  And it’s not overly sweet.  By the way, this cake batter, scooped into mounds and baked on a baking sheet for 12 minutes, makes a fantastic shortcake cake.  Just cut a small round off the top, pile strawberries and sauce on the bottom, add a dollop of whipped cream, top with the cake round, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

butter and all purpose flour for preparing the baking pan
1 pound rhubarb – washed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tsp. olive or canola oil
6 Tbsp. honey or blue agave nectar
3 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tsp. for sprinkling on the cake
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup cold cubed butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Generously butter a 9-inch round cake pan.  Add a teaspoonful of all-purpose flour to the pan, coat the butter, then tap out the excess.  In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with the oil.  Add the honey or agave nectar and mix together.  Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender but not mushy.  Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool.

Combine the cake flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, as you would for pie dough.  Whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Stir this liquid into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to combine.  Place the batter in the refrigerator to rest for 10 minutes.  Note – be sure to not skip this step, as chilling and resting the batter keeps it from billowing out over the sides of the cake pan, spilling out onto your oven floor, and catching your oven on fire…ahem, not that I know from experience or anything!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Dot the top with the roasted rhubarb and any syrup on the baking sheet (there should only be a couple of tablespoons of syrup, the rest having been absorbed into the rhubarb).  Sprinkle the 1 tsp. sugar over the rhubarb.  Place the cake in the oven on the center rack, and position a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil directly below the cake.  The cake will rise up and slightly over the pan when it is baking, and the baking sheet will keep any drips from burning on the oven floor.  Yes, you could use a larger pan, but the crispy edges that develop when using a pan this size are worth the extra trouble!

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Do not over-bake, or your cake will be dry.  Serve the cake cut right from the pan, best still warm, with whipped cream or ice cream, but it is also very good the next morning with a cup of coffee.

Rhubarb Jam & Grapefruit Curd Mille-feuille

Photo by POLARA STUDIOThis dessert was served at The Forager’s Feast in April, made with the very first rhubarb at the market.  It was garnished with candied grapefruit peel and candied violets, with a drizzle of violet syrup.  A dessert symbolic of the transition of seasons – winter citrus finale coupling with premier spring rhubarb & violets.

The only thing that I didn’t make for The Feast was the puff pastry for this dessert.  Instead, I pre-ordered and purchased wonderful all-butter unbaked puff pastry sheets from Grand Central Bakery.

For the jam:
Preserve recipe adapted from
Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters
makes 5 cups

2 pounds rhubarb, washed, dried, and trimmed
2 grapefruit, scrubbed clean
4 cups sugar

Cut the rhubarb into 1/2 inch dice and place it in a large glass or ceramic bowl.  Grate or microplane the grapefruit zest over the rhubarb (Ms. Waters calls for peeling the fruit and chopping the peel very fine, but grating produces a fine result with less fuss).  Juice the grapefruits and strain the juice into the bowl of rhubarb.  Mix in the sugar, cover the bowl with parchment paper, and let the fruit stand overnight.

Tip the contents of the bowl into a preserving pan (a non-reactive, heavy-bottomed, wider than it is deep pot).  Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring often.  Skim thoroughly to remove all of the foam that rises to the surface.  Cook until the jellying point is reached (220 degrees Fahrenheit should be sufficient).  Ladle into warm sterilized jars and seal.

For the grapefruit curd:
makes nearly 1 1/2 cups

grated zest of 2 scrubbed grapefruit
6 Tbsp. grapefruit juice
3 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
3 whole farm fresh eggs
3 farm fresh egg yolks

Put the zest, juice, water, sugar, butter, & salt into a heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan.

Heat the mixture slowly over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts.

Whisk the eggs and yolks together in a bowl.  Drizzle the hot grapefruit mixture into the eggs, whisking all the time to temper the eggs and avoid scrambling.  Scrape the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens, about 18-20 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the candied grapefruit peel:
makes about 4 cups

3 grapefruit, scrubbed clean
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Cut the grapefruit in half and juice the halves.  Drink the juice, with or without gin.  Cut the grapefruit halves in half.  Transfer the quarters into a large non-reactive saucepan and cover them with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.  Drain off the water, cover again with cold water, and repeat.  Repeat 2 more times (4 times total).  Make sure the peel is completely tender (a knife should slide in easily – if not, repeat boiling procedure as necessary).

Drain the grapefruit peel.  Let them cool, then carefully scrape away the inside membrane and flesh from the peel with a sharp-edged spoon.  Slice the peel into long 1/4 inch thick strips.

Place the grapefruit strips, sugar, and water in a non-reactive saucepan.  Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Cook slowly until the syrup becomes translucent then boils.  When it reaches 230 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from the heat and allow to stand in syrup for 30 minutes.  Drain, arrange on a cooling rack, not touching one another (or on parchment-lined baking sheets), and let air-dry overnight.  The next day, toss them with 1/2 cup sugar.  Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 6 months.

For the mille-feuille:

baked puff pastry rectangles
rhubarb-grapefruit jam
rhubarb curd
candied grapefruit peel
candied violets
violet syrup

Spread 2 puff pastry rectangles with jam.  Place a little bit of jam on a plate and set one rectangle on the jam so that it sticks to the plate.  Top the jam-spread puff pastry rectangle with a generous spoonful of curd.  Layer another jam-spread puff pastry on top of the curd, then another spoonful of curd, and finally a “top” of plain (jamless) puff pastry.  Decorate with candied peel, violet, and syrup.  Serve immediately.

Not into the full-on waterbath canning?  Try Cara Haskey’s recipe on her site Modern Preserves for Refrigerator Rhubarb-Ginger Jam.  (of course none of the jam recipes above have to be canned – if you are going to use them up in a couple of weeks, just refrigerate them!)

I have the makings of a Rhubarb Cordial steeping in my pantry.  The method, intrinsically simple, was shared by Deena Prichep in The Oregonian Foodday this spring.

Rhubarb Rugelach sounds divine.  This recipe by Two Tarts Bakery was featured in Portland Monthly Magazine.

Rhubarb Dressing

Chef Deborah Otenburg did a demonstration at the Moreland Farmers Market, using rhubarb jam from Greenville Farms in a salad dressing.  Here is her recipe.

1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. rhubarb jam
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the jam, honey, and vinegars.  Whisk to incorporate.  Add oil and whisk well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*If you’ve missed the spring rhubarb harvest, hold tight – rhubarb makes an encore in early autumn, at least here in Oregon, and we can transition into the next season with such lovely delights as apple-rhubarb crisp.

~Special thanks to Charlie at Sungold Farm~
for so generously supplying my rhubarb addiction
with so many fragrant red stalks of beautiful rhubarb!

About Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans

By offering Sage Culinary Advice, The Farmer's Feast assists Farmers' Market shoppers in making the most of their purchases, and helps vendors realize the culinary possibilities of their products. We create culinary education programs at Farmers' Markets. Through food preparation and cooking demonstrations, recipes focusing on technique, samples, stories and free advice, we're encouraging people to cook more often, from scratch, with market-fresh ingredients. Our goal? To cultivate domestic culinary arts. Once you've tasted the Farmer's Feast - glistening local produce, pastured meats, artisan cheese, wild seafood, rich nuts, grains and legumes - and see how easy cooking this bounty can be, you'll be hungry for fresh. Visit The Farmer's Feast on Facebook / E-mail wildeats@msn.com
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  1. Pingback: Bowl of Cherries – Sour & Sweet! | The Farmer's Feast

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