Overheard in the market:
Young boy: Dad, what’s this?
Dad: It’s rhubarb.
Young boy: Huh?
Dad: Rhubarb. I don’t know what you do with it, but that’s what it is.
Perhaps you have the same attitude towards rhubarb. It’s something weird and old-fashioned, and probably tastes bad.
That’s what I used to think. Until I saw a picture of a rhubarb pie in a gourmet magazine, and it looked pretty darn good. I decided to give it a try. There aren’t many fruits and veggies that I don’t like. The odds were in my favor.
Looking up rhubarb on the Internet, I found that it is a relatively new fruit to western culture (it is technically a vegetable). I read that Finnish children eat it as a treat coated with sugar. I didn’t quite understand that; did they mean raw? So, I bit a piece of stalk. YUCK. It was like the stringiest celery you’ve ever eaten, but super sour. Either Finnish children have iron guts, or the interpretation is incorrect.
Incidentally, you must not eat rhubarb leaves. They are poisonous and contain oxalic acid, among other unknown compounds, that can make you very sick. Apparently, during WWII, British citizens were instructed to eat the leaves, with unfortunate results.
I followed a recipe for rhubarb cobbler from an old copy of The Joy of Cooking. Rhubarb mixed with sugar and lemon juice becomes viscous when cooked; like a jam. It has a tart and sweet flavor that is perfect for a cobbler or crisp.
You can mix other fruits with rhubarb, too, if the flavor seems too overpowering for you. I like mixing apple slices in the recipe if I don’t have enough rhubarb. Blueberries will also work well.
We are trying to cut down on gluten, but still love our desserts. So, this year I tried something different — lots of rhubarb with just a little crunch on top. More like a fruit compote with a granola garnish. It was delicious with vanilla ice cream.
Be adventurous! Give rhubarb a try. You might just discover that you have found a new dessert favorite and have expanded your palate. Another day of sweet satisfaction!
Rhubarb Compote á la Mode, With Crunch
Reheat and serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Serves 3-4, or two hungry people. Fantastic!
3 c. cleaned and chopped rhubarb stalks
½ c. sugar
2 TBS lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
¼ c. almond meal
¼ c. brown sugar
¼ c. oats
4 TBS butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
Clean dirt off rhubarb stalks, and trim off any black or discolored areas. Chop into 1 inch pieces and put in a medium bowl. Add sugar and lemon juice and mix to coat.
In a separate bowl, mix together the almond meal, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and ginger. Cut in butter, using two knives or a pastry blender. Continue until mixture resembles a crumble.
Pour rhubarb mixture into a 4 or 5 c. glass baking dish. Sprinkle the crumble over the top. Bake at 350°F for about 40 min. Serve immediately, or reheat. Top with vanilla ice cream.
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