More than pie: Weisblat plumbs rhubarb’s depth through new book

  • Tinky Weisblat and her new book “€œLove, Laughter and Rhubarb.” Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat’s new book “€œLove, Laughter and Rhubarb.” Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

At first glance, the title of Tinky Weisblat’s latest book, “Love, Laughter and Rhubarb,” seems incongruous: What’s “love” or “laughter” have to do with that tart, fruit-like stalk we call rhubarb?

For starters, there’s the comic sound of the word itself, used by extras in old dramas to imitate the murmur of crowds, according to Weisblat’s book.

“In Shakespeare’s day and beyond, extras onstage would intone ‘rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb’ to simulate muttering, particularly angry muttering,” she writes. “I like to think that the peasants coming after the monster with torches in the classic film ‘Frankenstein’ used the phrase, although I have no proof that they did.”

And the “love” for rhubarb, at least for Weisblat, was definitely not love-at-first-sight.

“My farm-raised mother and grandmother both doted on rhubarb and frequently urged the small Tinky to partake of what they considered a treat,” Weisblat writes in her introduction. “I scorned the idea. Rhubarb was tart, and I was a lover of sweets. It was oddly stringy, and I favored uniform texture in my food. It was old-fashioned, and I prided myself on embracing the new.”

But in the 1990s, when Weisblat saw the robust shoots growing in her backyard in early spring, she gave it another try.

“Perhaps it had to do with changing relationships,” she writes. “My grandmother had died, and my mother was aging. Eating a plant they loved suddenly seemed like a tribute to them rather than a surrender.”

“Love, Laughter and Rhubarb” (Merry Lion Press, $22.95), to be released on Saturday, offers so much more than pie recipes. The book explores rhubarb history and rhubarb in literature, how to pick rhubarb and how to use it. It is filled with images of rhubarb in ads and in artwork, along with photos of some of the people whose recipes are collected in this book.

In celebration of Weisblat’s newest cookbook,  the Hawley Selectboard declared May 26, “Hawley Rhubarb Day.” On that Saturday, Weisblat will host what she calls a “Hawley Rhubarb Matinee” at 84 Middle Road in Hawley. The event takes place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Hawley’s newest culinary event will honor rhubarb, a New England food that resembles the tiny town — strong and resilient, old fashioned yet open to new flavors and full of personality,” Weisblat said of both rhubarb and her rural hilltown (population 337) where rhubarb thrives.

Those who come are asked to bring their favorite rhubarb dish, recipe or rhubarb story, “or just come visit with western Massachusetts neighbors and taste other people’s treats,” she said. She also suggests people wear something rhubarb-red to the party if possible.

At 3 p.m., a gardening expert will discuss raising rhubarb. And Weisblat, a professional singer as well as food writer, will sing a song of rhubarb and talk about what she calls a “much-maligned food.” Also, there will be books for sale.

In her latest book, Weisblat shares several favorite rhubarb recipes from local residents. There are at least 60 recipes from medicinal teas and beverages, to condiments, desserts and even entrees. They range from tangy rhubarb barbecue sauce to rhubarb chutney, Persian lamb with rhubarb stew to rhubarb chili. There is a strawberry-rhubarb cream cheese tart, and even rhubarb pizza. There are rhubarb scones and muffins, cakes and even rhubarb sorbet. For dieheart rhubarb-lovers, there’s also an unsweetened grilled rhubarb dish.

Weisblat’s book also veers into a few other spring-veggie dishes: asparagus fritters, sauteed dandelion greens and some tips on baking pie crusts.

Besides writing for the Greenfield Recorder, Weisblat is a former food writer for The Boston Globe and author of two other books: “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy: A Year with Dementia and Other Adventures.”

Those who miss Hawley Rhubarb Day may hear Weisblat talk about rhubarb at two other events in Franklin County. On Tuesday, May 29, at 6:30 p.m., she will speak at the Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield. On Friday, June 8, at 6:30 p.m., she will speak at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls. Refreshments and books will be available on both occasions.

For more information about the Hawley Rhubarb Matinee, email hawleyrhubarb@earthling.net.

Rhubarb-Apple Crisp


2 cups chopped rhubarb

3 cups sliced apples (core, but peeling isn’t necessary)

½ cup white sugar, plus ½ cup sugar for later

2 pinches of salt

Juice from ½ lemon

½ cup flour

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup oats (uncooked oatmeal)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 stick unsalted butter (½ cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, toss together rhubarb, apples, ½ cup sugar, one pinch of salt and lemon juice. Spread them in a buttered two-quart baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine flour, remaining white sugar, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and one pinch of salt. Cut or rub in butter until you have coarse crumbs. Gently spread this combination over the fruit mixture.

Bake the crisp until it is brown and bubbly, at least 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with cream, whipped cream, ice cream or frozen yogurt. Serves six.

Staff reporter Diane Broncaccio has worked at the Greenfield Recorder since 1988. Her beat includes West County. She can be reached at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277.