My first response: What is it?
My second response: mmm...
And so began my love affair with rhubarb.
It is generally regarded as an old-fashioned plant, probably because once a crown is planted, it grows for generations. In the spring in Iowa, it seems to sprout up everywhere. The plant itself is as much at home in an ornamental garden as the traditional vegetable plot. Celery-like stalks of reds and greens shoot up into broad leaves, reminiscent of elephant ears. Because it needs a winter's freeze to grow, it is unheard of in California. But Arkansas freezes.
When we first bought our house, I purchased several bare roots from Atwoods, the local farm store. That first spring, they popped up, but then a hot summer's drought finished them off. Last spring, we brought home a portion of an old root crown from the farm and planted it in a full-sun location. That is how it grows in Iowa. This spring it seemed to lagging, and then I overheard a vendor at the Fayetteville Farmer's market explaining how to grow rhubarb in Arkansas. Apparently, for our Southern climate, it needs to go into the shadiest part of the garden. So, my rhubarb is now settled in behind the bench-log in the pond garden. It seems happy there.
We brought home several pounds of rhubarb from the farm last week. Of course, it is already gone. Here is what I made with it:
Rhubarb Crumb Bars from the May 2009 issue of Everyday Food. Except, I made them in a spring form pan for coffee cake instead. Yummy.
The obligatory rhubarb pie. My favorite recipe comes from Baking Illustrated, which calls for 1/2 strawberries, 1/2 rhubarb. This time I substituted all rhubarb, but didn't increase the amount of sugar. It was a bit too tart. But I kind of like it that way. My favorite pie crust recipe is Martha Stewart's pate brisee. It's amazingly flaky. But how could you go wrong with 2 sticks of butter...?
Sometimes Vegan Rhubarb Muffins
- 1/4 cup butter (I've also used vegetable shortening when they need to be dairy-free)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup sugar (I use sucanat)
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (Of course, these could also be made with all-purpose flour, or a combination of the two)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk (or soymilk)
- 2 cups sliced rhubarb
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin cups as desired. No matter how well I grease a bare muffin tin, my muffins stick, so I usually use unbleached baking cups, but in a pinch I sometimes use squares of parchment paper.
- Cream together butter, applesauce, and sugar. I use my KitchenAid, but these could definitely be made in a bowl with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in remaining ingredients, just until combined. Don't overstir or they won't rise well.
- Spoon into muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.
- Bake 35 minutes, or until tops are firm. I know, that seems like a long time for muffins, but they turn out great this way. Cool slightly before serving.