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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Rhubarb Returns For Spring

By Sherrie Norris

Those who’ve been around awhile know that the bright red stalks of a plant called rhubarb indicated that spring has arrived.

 A lot of “old-timers,” especially, look forward to its arrival around this same time each year. Some have already mentioned to me seeing it rising up out of the cold dark ground.

Recognized as a stout, coarse perennial with large leaves and small clusters of flowers, rhubarb was brought to America in the late 1700s, migrating from older and colder countries by way of Italy.

While the stalk is edible and the leaves are poisonous, there is some hisotry of it having been used for medicinal purposes in the early days.

Most agree that its sour bitter taste in raw form is not something one likes immediately, but rather, rhubarb is one of those things for which an acquired taste is necessary. In most recipes I’ve seen, it is almost always coupled with some type of fruit, strawberry being its most popular mate.

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 it 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.

 

Rhubarb Fruit Squares

3¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 cup butter

3/4 cup milk

1 large egg yolk, room temperature

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

5 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened (sliced) strawberries or whole raspberries, thawed and drained

3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained

Glaze:

1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

5 tsp. milk

In a large bowl, mix flour and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk 3/4 cup milk and egg yolk; gradually add to flour mixture, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. (May need to add more milk, a little at a time, for dough consistency.)

Divide dough in 2 portions with one being a little larger than the other; cover and refrigerate until easy to handle, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Roll out larger portion of dough onto floured waxed paper. Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet. Press into bottom and up sides of pan. (Should have extra dough to seal with top crust.)

In bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add berries and rhubarb; toss to coat. Spoon into crust.

Roll out remaining dough; place over filling. Fold bottom crust over edge of top crust; seal with a fork. Prick top with a fork.

Bake until golden brown, 45-55 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For glaze, mix confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency; drizzle over bars. Cut into squares to serve. Best warm with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.

 

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

1/2 cup half and half, cream or buttermilk

1 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tsp for sprinkling

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour, saving out 1 Tbs. to toss with rhubarb

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb

Set oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9×9-inch. square baking pan. Stir  lemon juice into half and half and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Beat in egg and vanilla. Toss 1 Tbs. of the flour into rhubarb.

Whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix in half the flour mixture, add half and half. Add remaining flour; mix just until combined. Fold rhubarb into the thick batter.

Spread batter into prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly with a little sugar. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until lightly browned and center is done.

Allow cake to cool slightly before cutting.

 

Simple Rhubarb Sauce

4 cups diced rhubarb

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix ingredients to sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a boil; turn down to medium-low heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes. 

Remove from stove and let cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator up to a week. Can also freeze for up to 3 months.

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

1 cup white sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 pound fresh rhubarb, chopped

2 pints fresh strawberries

1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch double crust pie

2 Tbs. butter

1 egg yolk

2 Tbs. white sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In large bowl, mix flour and sugar. Add strawberries and rhubarb. Toss with sugar and flour; let stand for 30 minutes. Pour filling into pie-crust. Dot top with butter; cover with top crust. Seal edges of top and bottom crust with water. Apply yolk to top of pie with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with sugar. Cut small holes in top to let steam escape. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly and brown. Cool on rack.

 

Rhubarb Muffins 

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 ½ cups chopped fresh rhubarb

½ cup chopped walnuts

Topping:

½ cup white sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners. In large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In medium bowl, combine brown sugar, buttermilk, egg and vanilla; mix. Fold in rhubarb and walnuts. Add to flour mixture, mixing just until moist. Spoon batter into prepared paper liners. In a small bowl, blend sugar and butter and sprinkle over each muffin. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

 

Rhubarb Bread

  cups brown sugar, packed

2/3 cup oil

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla

2½ cups flour

2 cups diced rhubarb

½  cups chopped nuts.

1 Tbs. soft butter

¼ cup granulated sugar.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two loaf pans. Combine in a bowl the brown sugar and oil. Stir well until smooth. Add  egg, buttermilk, salt, baking soda, vanilla and flour. Blend until moist. Fold in rhubarb and nuts. Turn batter into prepared loaf pans. Combine butter and sugar until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 F 50-55 minutes, or until bread passes the toothpick test. Turn onto racks and cool before slicing.