4.16.2009

I Love Rhubarb

After having seen a mouth-watering photograph of a rhubarb tart the other day, my childhood came rushing back. We were raised in a small town on the St. Clair River in Michigan. My grandparents lived next door and their home was surrounded by gardens; I can still picture my grandmother in a huge straw hat out there toiling away. That garden was chock full of all kinds of flowers- roses, lilacs, whatever- I can't remember them all now, but something always seemed to be blooming- and there was a glorious magnolia tree in one corner. On the back side of the house and somewhat out of the way, there was a small kitchen garden. Among other things, Grandma Smith had a bed of rhubarb- which if you know rhubarb, takes up a lot of space. My mother would go over and break off bunches of it- the leaves were enormous- so out of proportion to the stalks. And here’s something nobody ever mentioned to me when I was young: did you know the leaves were poisonous?


Mother loved stewed rhubarb and also made the best rhubarb pie I have ever eaten. Most people use strawberries or tapioca to thicken their rhubarb pies, but Mother didn’t. It was sticky, gooey and slightly runny when you cut into it, but absolutely perfect. And nobody made pie crust like my mother and her mother before her. A talent which got lost in the gene pool shuffle because even with their recipe in hand- mine does not turn out anywhere near as well. (Could it have been because they used lard? Or maybe I just have to face facts- some of us have the pastry talent and some don't.) Luckily, the recipe I am going to tell you about uses puff pastry and not pie crust. It must have been invented just for me.

Here's some info about rhubarb: it is actually a leafy vegetable of the buckwheat family; however in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court ruled rhubarb was to be classified as a fruit, since that is its primary usage. The rhubarb season runs from April to September, although it can be forced which accounts for its availability early in the year. Field-grown rhubarb has cherry-red stalks, bright green leaves and has the most pronounced flavor of the two main varieties. Hothouse rhubarb has pink to pale red stalks, yellow-green leaves, milder flavor, and is less stringy. And once planted, rhubarb plantings remain productive for 8 to 15 years- no wonder Grandma's rhubarb took up an entire bed- it had probably been there for years.


So I’ve always had a special place in my heart for anything rhubarb because we had it so much as children. I guess it never occurred to me to plant it in any of my later gardens so I never made many rhubarb dishes for my kids. That's OK though because my mother served it often when we visited; my kids got their share of it. And while to this day I still love stewed rhubarb, I now cringe at the amount of sugar in it so rarely make it. I remember that about the pies, too. Very sugary. And then we would add insult to injury and top it with vanilla ice cream. Ohhh so good.

The rhubarb tart recipe and photo that caused all this nostalgia appeared in Gourmet Magazine's April issue. What I want to know is where did they find rhubarb stems that thick? Had to be from someone’s garden. The rhubarb I found in my produce section (no home grown rhubarb beds in Florida) was not nearly as thick. I'd suspect they were photoshopping around with it except I don't think it's possible.

Getting back to the article: they also referred to the recipe as speedy or quick dessert or something - which, believe me, it isn’t. Well, maybe it would have been if I had fat rhubarb to work with. Anyway, slicing the narrow rhubarb stalks thinly AND on a diagonal takes forever (all those strings, worse even than celery) and a lot of patience. I think what they meant by quick was it didn’t have to sit in the fridge overnight or something.

Even though it has a yummy glaze, you may think it needs more sweet. Gourmet’s suggestion is ice cream. I guess I agree although I wouldn’t call it bitter, but tart. Frankly, I liked it the way it was- right from the oven, crispy and warm, but I bet lots of you would put ice cream on it. Well, no matter what you top it with, it's fun to make. And it's a great summer dessert- especially if you are lucky enough to have a rhubarb bed in your back yard.

Rhubarb Tart
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April, 2009)

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

Method:
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Mix together the orange juice, sugar and lemon juice. Add the sliced rhubarb and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once in a while.
Cut the puff pastry in half lengthwise, then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Arrange pastry rectangles side by side on parchment paper on a large baking sheet.
Take a sharp knife and score the pastry around the outside, about 1/2 inch in. Do not cut through the pastry. Prick the pastry inside all over with a fork.
Strain the rhubarb mixture and reserve the liquid. Overlap the rhubarb slices in the puff pastry. Repeat with the other piece of pastry.
Bake for about 30 minutes until golden.
Meanwhile, pour the reserved liquid into a saucepan and reduce until about 1/4 cup, skimming off the foam as you go along. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
Place the tarts on a rack to cool. Brush all over with the glaze, pastry included. Sprinkle with orange zest. Serves about 8. Serve with ice cream.

3 comments:

  1. I love fresh rhubarb from my father's garden!! Your tarte looks so tasty & fabulous, indeed!!

    MMMMMMMMMM,...

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  2. OMG I love rhubarb too. I just caught this recipe! It so reminds me of my childhood. Our neighbor had a fantastic garden and rhubarb was one of the first things to harvest. And don't you dare put strawberries in my rhubarb pie (it messes it up).

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  3. Boy you sure have a knack with rhubarb, Barbara. I need to try it more often so I acquire a taste for it. You sure are a HUGE help!!!

    P.S. I didn't want to leave another comment on your give-away but I just had to tell you about mine. Drop by if you get a sec...

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