This slow spring has left us longing for local produce. But there’s always rhubarb.
Use of the ruby stalks as a food is actually a relatively recent development, according to “The Produce Bible” by Leanne Kitchen. Before it was eaten, rhubarb was an important medicine crop in China and was later exported to Europe, where it became popular.
“In sixteenth-century France, rhubarb was reputed to be ten times as expensive as cinnamon – in 1650s England it sold for over two and a half times the price of opium,” Kitchen writes.
It’s delicious folded into sweet-tart pies, crisps and cobblers. But it also makes a wonderful sweet-and-sour sauce to accompany roasted and grilled meats.
Spiced Rhubarb Chutney
From Gourmet magazine, 1994. Serve with pork, chicken or even fish. The original recipe accompanied a cumin-rubbed pork tenderloin.
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 cups 1/2-inch cubes fresh rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup (generous) chopped red onion
1/3 cup dried tart cherries or golden raisins (about 2 ounces)
Combine first eight ingredients (sugar through red pepper) in a large, heavy Dutch oven. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. 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 using.)
Approximate nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 63 calories, less than 1 gram fat, less than 1 gram protein, 17 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 2.5 milligrams sodium.
Rhubarb Custard Pie
From Diane Green, Greentree Naturals farm in Sandpoint
Pastry for a 2-crust, 10-inch pie, unbaked
7 tablespoons flour, divided
1/3 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 to 6 cups chopped rhubarb (1-inch pieces)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line pie pan with crust.
Mix together eggs, 6 tablespoons flour, salt, nutmeg and 2 cups of sugar.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon flour on bottom of crust. Add rhubarb to egg mixture and pour into crust. Put crust on top and bake for 15 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake 45 minutes or until done.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving, based on 10: 387 calories, 13 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 31 percent fat calories), 6 grams protein, 62 grams carbohydrate, 85 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 279 milligrams sodium.
Rhubarb and Apple Upside-Down Cake
From “The Produce Bible,” by Leanne Kitchen
1 cup sugar
3 cups rhubarb, chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup self-rising flour (see note)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a deep, 8-inch round cake pan and line the base with parchment paper.
Put the sugar in a saucepan with 1/3 cup water and heat gently, shaking occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and cook until it turns a pale caramel color (it will turn a deeper color in the oven). Pour into cake pan and then press the rhubarb and apple into the caramel.
Beat the eggs, confectioners sugar and vanilla extract in a small bowl with an electric mixer until the mixture is frothy. Fold in the melted butter. Sift the flour over the top and stir (the mixture will be soft.) Spoon gently over the fruit, being careful not to dislodge it.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until set on top. Run a knife around the side of the cake and turn out very carefully onto a wire rack to cool. Be sure to do this straight away, otherwise the caramel will cool and stick to the pan.
Serve warm with cream as a dessert, or cool as a teacake.
Variation: Fresh plums can be substituted for the apple and rhubarb in this recipe. The plums should be halved and cored, then sliced and pressed into the caramel in a decorative spiral pattern, or randomly. Bake the cake as for the original recipe and serve either warm or cold.
Note: Substitute 1 cup self-rising flour with 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Yield: 1 cake, 8 to 10 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving, based on 10: 220 calories, 7 grams fat (4 grams saturated, 30 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate, 59 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 182 milligrams sodium.