By Sherrie Norris
One of the season’s first fresh produce items that you’re likely to find at the farmer’s market in the coming weeks is a simple vegetable called rhubarb. While some may consider it a fruit, it is indeed classified as a vegetable, with a tart distinct flavor not to be confused with any other. When paired up with fruit, especially strawberries, and added sugar, it makes for a delicious dessert or jam.
If you’ve followed this column through the years, you’ve read of my childhood memories of seeing rhubarb grow in my late Aunt Dovie’s garden in Avery County. Even now, my memories easily travel back to that time, some 50 years ago. I can visualize the scene so vividly of the hardworking country woman, her aching back bent with age, cutting those stalks of rhubarb and carrying them to her kitchen in her apron folds.
Although rhubarb grows in abundance, it doesn’t stay around for very long and is best when found in crisp, plump, medium-size stalks. Rhubarb can be kept fresh for about a week when wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in an airtight container in the fridge. It can be frozen, whole or sliced, and packed in a moisture-proof, freezer-proof container or bag, with about ½-inch headspace. Then, even in the middle of winter, its springtime taste can be enjoyed in cakes, pies, muffins and more. In all recipes, frozen rhubarb can be substituted for the fresh; just be sure to thaw and drain well before using. (See below for instructions on freezing it.)
I’ve sorted through some of my rhubarb recipes here for you to try and hopefully enjoy. Some of these treasures still have that old-fashioned feel for me, as many were initially found on yellowing, handwritten note cards, or on the back of envelopes, and some in my favorite church and community cookbooks. There will always be a sense of nostalgia for me as I share this annual spring column.
1 cup butter softened
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 eggs room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cup quick cooking oatmeal
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ cups rhubarb finely diced
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, oatmeal, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into the wet. Gently stir in rhubarb.
Drop dough by tablespoons onto a cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired. Let cool on the tray for 2 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
4 oz. cream cheese room temperature
4 Tbsp. butter softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 – 3 Tbsp. milk as needed.
Beat cream cheese and butter until combined and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add milk as needed to get a spreadable consistency.
Notes: You can make this recipe using fresh or frozen rhubarb, but if you do use frozen, make sure you thaw the rhubarb first and drain the liquid. Don’t squeeze the liquid out, just drain what naturally thaws out of the rhubarb.
Chill dough for 30 minutes before baking.
Store tightly covered or freeze for longer storage.
For the crust
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cold butter cubed
¼ cup powdered sugar
For the filling
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
4 cups rhubarb, diced
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and powdered sugar. Using a pastry blender cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pat the crumbs into a well greased 9 x 13 in baking pan. Bake the crust at for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
While the crust is in the oven, mix together eggs, sugar, flour, and salt. Gently stir in the diced rhubarb. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the hot crust.
Return bars to the hot oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F and bake for 30-35 min or until the filling is set and no longer jiggly.
Cool for 30 mins on the counter. Refrigerate and chill completely before cutting into bars.
Note: This is a quick and easy recipe to assemble. It might be too sweet for some, so feel free to reduce the amount of sugar to suit your taste.
Make sure you bake these bars long enough. If not, the crust will be soggy.
Simple Rhubarb Cake
1 yellow cake mix
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups whipping cream
Optional: Whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt and/or chopped nuts for garnishing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, water, oil and eggs at low speed until moistened. Beat for 2 minutes at highest speed. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle rhubarb over the mixture and top with sugar. Pour cream over the top. Bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt, if desired. Store in refrigerator.
Fr the filling:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups quartered strawberries
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
¼ cup flour
For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. water
1 stick cold salted butter, cubed
Blend together chopped rhubarb, strawberry, ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, and ¼ cup flour. Pour into a buttered 10-12 inch skillet, and heat over medium for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Set aside.
Stir 1 cup flour, rolled oats, sugar, cinnamon and water together, then cut in butter with a pastry cutter or two forks until you have a crumbly, slightly moist texture.
Sprinkle topping to cover your filling, then bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
My mother and grandmother always froze rhubarb; it was handy to have available to make their pies throughout the year.
Just wash the rhubarb, dice it up, and freeze it in appropriate size freezer bags. Usually, 4 cups is a perfect portion to thaw out and throw into a pie with strawberries or to use in one of the recipes found above.
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