Rhubarb matinee

  • Deb Porter's rhubarb coffee cake. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat—

  • Tinky Weisblat cooking with rhubarb. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Judith Roberts bicycled all the way from Colrain, managing not to spill her culinary offering. This was a jar of something she called “rubicello,” a riff on limoncello with a definite kick. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Fresh rhubarb. It’s beautiful. It’s resilient. It’s tart but susceptible to sweetening. It’s versatile. And for most country dwellers, it’s free. Contributed photos

  • Deb Porter's Rhubarb Coffee Cake. FOR THE REOCORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder
Published: 6/12/2019 7:00:25 AM

Someday, I’ll stop writing about rhubarb. Then again, maybe I won’t. This vegetable — masquerading as fruit — is currently in fine fettle in yards here in western Massachusetts. It’s one of my favorite foods in the world.

It’s beautiful. It’s resilient. It’s tart but susceptible to sweetening. It’s versatile. And, for most country dwellers, it’s free.

I have a fledgling rhubarb patch in my own yard and have many generous neighbors with well-established rhubarb beds of their own.

Rhubarb has a rich history. For centuries, ground rhubarb roots from China and elsewhere were used as medicine for stomach ailments.

Last year, at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, I saw Chinese rhubarb in the village’s garden — it looked like the rhubarb we know and love, but with spiky leaves.

I asked if I could take a stalk home to play with. Hancock’s director of education did a little research and then regretfully informed me the medicinal rhubarb wasn’t safe to eat.

A couple of weeks ago, I held my second annual “Hawley Rhubarb Matinee,” which is basically a party for rhubarb lovers to share (or talk about) their favorite rhubarb dishes and their mutual love of rhubarb.

Last year’s party launched my rhubarb cookbook. This year’s event was much more relaxed since I was throwing it as a rhubarb lover rather than an author (although I did have books available for sale to people who wanted them).

A convivial, cozy crowd gathered. Appropriately, most were from my hamlet of Hawley. Two women arrived from Great Barrington and were a little late because their GPS (in the way of GPS in these parts) sent them along a completely unnecessary dirt road.

Judith Roberts bicycled all the way from Colrain, managing not to spill her culinary offering. This was a jar of something she called “rubicello,” a riff on limoncello with a definite kick. (I was hoping she could give me the recipe, but she reported that she threw it together without writing anything down, alas.)

My neighbors Susan and Peter Purdy brought a rhubarb coffee cake inspired by a recipe from Deb Porter of Heath. That recipe, I am happy to provide, is in my rhubarb book.

As I often am, I was asked at the matinee to sing a rhubarb song. I can’t do that here in the newspaper. I can perform my other requested task, however, and explain the ideal method of picking rhubarb.

I gleaned this knowledge from my late neighbor Florette Zuelke, whose rhubarb patch still thrives a decade after her death.

When you go outside to pick rhubarb, bring along a knife and a bag. The knife is not used to cut the rhubarb stalks. Those should be pulled out gently by hand, as horizontally as possible. This helps the rhubarb plants produce new stalks.

Use your knife to cut the leaves off the stalks right there in the rhubarb patch. It’s important not to bring the leaves into your kitchen; rhubarb leaves are poisonous. I usually place them back around the rhubarb plants to mulch them. Then I pop the stalks into my bag and go inside to cook my heart out.

Happy rhubarb season — may your lives, like rhubarb, be full of color and flavor.

Tinky’s Rhubarb Pizza

Many people don’t realize that rhubarb works beautifully in savory as well as sweet recipes. This is one of my favorite rhubarb applications. My nephew Michael likes to help me make it and loves to help me eat it.

A splash of extra-virgin olive oil

½ large red onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic scapes, chopped, or 1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup rhubarb

1 ½ teaspoons honey

½ teaspoon salt

A few turns of the pepper grinder

1 medium pizza crust (about 1 pound)

Extra-virgin olive oil as needed

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

½ pound fresh spinach (a little more if you like)

1 garlic scape, chopped, or 1 clove garlic, minced

From a couple of hours to 2 days before you wish to make the pizza, heat the oil for the sauce in a Dutch oven.

Toss in the onion slices and pieces of garlic, and cook them over low heat until they begin to caramelize (probably 20 minutes to 1/2 hour), adding a very small amount of water if necessary to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Toss in the rhubarb, the honey, the salt, and the pepper, and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the rhubarb is tender but not completely broken down, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Let the sauce cool to room temperature, put it in a covered container, and let it sit in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When you open the container you will find that the onions have taken on lovely red color from the rhubarb.

A couple of hours before you are ready to make the pizza, take your pizza crust out of the refrigerator (if you are using a commercial crust; if your crust is homemade it won’t need cooling), place it on a greased baking sheet, and let it rest.

After an hour and a half or so, preheat the oven to 475 degrees, and stretch the crust out on the baking sheet.

Oil the top of the crust, and spread the rhubarb sauce on top. It doesn’t have to cover the crust; this is a simple savory pizza, not a heavy one.

Sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake the pizza until it looks done, 10 to 12 minutes. While the pizza is baking, sauté the spinach and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until the spinach wilts. Set this mixture aside.

When the pizza comes out of the oven, sprinkle the spinach on top. Let the pizza rest for a minute or two; then slice it. Serves 4 as a main course or a crowd as an appetizer.

Deb Porter’s Rhubarb Coffee Cake

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sour cream

3 cups finely chopped rhubarb

for the topping:

1 cup sugar

¼ cup (1/2 stick) soft sweet butter

¼ cup flour

Cinnamon as needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

In a large bowl stir together the sugar for the cake, the baking soda, the salt, and the flour. Stir in the eggs and the sour cream and combine until smooth; then fold in the rhubarb. Spoon and spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

In a small bowl blend the topping ingredients (except the cinnamon) until they are crumbly. Sprinkle those ingredients over the cake, and dust the top with cinnamon.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Serves 12 to 16.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website at tinkycooks.com.




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