June is here, so you know what that means: another S.O.S. Kitchen Challenge! Ricki from Diet, Dessert, and Dogs and I are excited to be hosting our third event this month. First we challenged you to use beets. Last month we asked you to get creative with spinach. What's our ingredient this month? Here's a hint:
When I think of spring and early summer, I think of rhubarb. I love rhubarb. I mention it often and have a handful of tasty rhubarb recipes on my blog. This is no accident; I come from a long line of rhubarb lovers.
Rhubarb is a funny plant. It is a relative of buckwheat, and while it is botanically a vegetable, it is most often treated like a fruit. It is generally used in sweet dishes and is rarely - if ever - eaten alone due to its tart, sour flavor. In fact, it is nicknamed the "pie plant" because it is most often used in pies!
Rhubarb originated in Western China, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia and other areas of Central Asia. The root was used primarily for medicinal purposes, considered a powerful treatment for a number of ailments. In the the eighteenth century, rhubarb began to be consumed in foods in Europe, primarily drinks and meat stews. By the end of the eighteenth century, rhubarb was introduced to the United States. It is now a popular crop, and many people have thriving plants in the backyard! Besides being delicious in things like cookies, compotes, scones, and bars, rhubarb has a number of nutritional benefits. It is low in sugar and carbohydrates, and is a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin A. It is thought to reduce risk of cancer, may have a positive effect on lowering blood pressure, may help reduce hot flashes, and has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterials, and anti-allergy properties. Unfortunately, it is also high in oxalic acid, so if you are oxalate sensitive, hold back.
Rhubarb is most sweet and tender in spring, but can grow late into the summer if kept well watered and if the weather isn't too hot. When selecting rhubarb, pick firm stalks with the deepest red color. Once picked, wrap rhubarb in a plastic bag, and store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to about a week and a half. When you are ready to prepare it, cut off and discard and leaves. Never eat the rhubarb leaf - it is actually poisonous, due to the high level of oxalates and other toxins! After discarding the leaves, trim from stem and leaf end of the stalk, and then chop or slice the remaining stalk to pieces of the desired size. Use fresh immediately, or freeze for later use.
If you can't find fresh rhubarb in your markets anymore - some warmer areas of the country may already be past rhubarb season, or don't have fresh rhubarb at all - you may be able to find frozen rhubarb at your local co-op or natural foods store, or Whole Foods. Stahlbush Island Farms produces wonderful, organic frozen fruits, including rhubarb. Frozen rhubarb will work just as well! Just make sure to use your rhubarb frozen and don't let it thaw - it will just become mushy.
Want to participate in this month's SOS Kitchen Challenge?
Simply post a recipe using rhubarb before the deadline of midnight, June 20, 2010, CST, and send it to soskitchenchallengeATgmailDOTcom (note: you don’t have to cook up an original recipe–any recipe that uses the ingredient is just fine, even if you found it somewhere else!).
For full details on what kinds of ingredients to use and how to enter the challenge, see this page. I’ll post the roundup (as will Ricki, on her blog) a week after the deadline so you can take your time browsing through the amazing collection of recipes before the next challenge!
Need some inspiration?
Be sure to check out Ricki's kick-off recipe for Millet Biscuits with Rhubarb. Sounds great, huh? And in general, the blogosphere has been crazy over rhubarb the last month or so. Here are some of my favorite recent posts from fellow food bloggers, including one of my own...
- Rhubarb and Strawberry Lemonade from the always charming David and Luise at Green Kitchen Stories
- Rhubarb Hand Pies with Orange and Cardamom from So Good and Tasty
- Orange Rhubarb Butter from Food in Jars
- Rhubarb Tartelettes from Tartelette
- Gluten-Free Rhubarb Financiers from Tartelette
- Your Best Rhubarb Recipe Contest from Food 52 (a MASSIVE assortment of incredible rhubarb recipes!!!)
- Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Pie from I am Gluten Free
- Rhubarb Cake from C'est La Vegan
- Spring Lamb and Rhubarb Stew from Afghan Cooking Unveiled
- Caramelized Onion, Beet, and Rhubarb Compote from Affairs of Living (yeah, me...)
- 15 Sweet and Savory Rhubarb Ideas from Food2
- Rustic Rhubarb Tarts from Smitten Kitchen
- Some Rhubarb Recipes from the Week from Shauna at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef
A Rhubarb Story.
Before I share my kick-off recipe with you, I want to share the story behind my love of rhubarb. My family has what I consider to the best rhubarb plants in the state of Wisconsin, perhaps in the world, and it has played an important part of our summer tradition for years. The story of how that came to be involves a shovel and some sneaky activity on the part of my father and grandfather. Oh, the intrigue!
Once upon a time, on the land only 1/4 mile from my parents' home, there was a farm owned by an old man named Peter Holer (terrible name, but true). This land is now home to a housing development and a gas station. However, like much of the northside of Oshkosh, it used to rich farmland, rural and undeveloped. Since 1875, my family had farm property, known as the Weideman farm, about one mile north of the Holer property. My great grandparents and grandparents lived on this farm, and my mom, aunt, and uncle were all raised there. My grandpa Herb was a petroleum delivery man; he couldn't farm full time because his feet and legs were badly injured in a car accident just after my grandparents were married, and farming was too hard on him. He knew everyone in town (or at least it seems like it, from the stories I've heard), including old Peter Holer. My grandpa Herb knew that Peter had some pretty rockin' rhubarb on his farm; Peter was on his delivery route, and my grandpa had been eyeing up that rhubarb for years.
One day, about 35 years ago, old Peter Holer died. The farm was left abandoned, and my grandpa saw a golden opportunity. He knew the farm was just going to sold and plowed over anyway for development, why should perfectly good - no, perfectly great - rhubarb go to waste? He convinced my dad of the same. So, one afternoon the two of them loaded up the truck with shovels and newspaper and bags, drove the mile down the road to the abandoned farm, and proceeded to help themselves to Peter's gorgeous rhubarb plants. And not just some of them, mind you. All of them. They returned to my grandparents' farm with 12 beautiful plants and promptly planted it in the backyard behind the house. It thrived, and grew big and strong. My grandmother's collection of rhubarb recipes grew (and I'm guessing my grandfather's waistline did too).
A few years later, my parents bought their first house together. It was in a neighborhood smack dab in the middle between the old Holer farm property and the Weideman farm. My dad dug up half the rhubarb plants from my grandparents' backyard, drove it down the road, and planted in the yard of their new home. It didn't have far to travel! An enormous row of rhubarb now lined the back of the house, and my parents tended it lovingly. Eventually, my brother and I came along, and our toys and a huge swingset now joined the rhubarb in the backyard. We spent hours playing with the huge rhubarb leaves and squealed when bunnies leaped out from under the plants. All summer long we ate rhubarb non-stop. We ate the stalks raw dipped in sugar. We ate rhubarb sauce over ice cream, we made rhubarb cake, and rhubarb tortes, and rhubarb bars, and rhubarb jam, and the epic family favorite 1-2-3-4 Rhubarb Pie (I'll share a recipe for this later this month). When I got old enough to bake, I made that pie for the county fair and got a blue ribbon. Rhubarb was at every family summer function. When my I was 3, my grandparents sold the farm and moved into town. Thankfully, we still had the rhubarb plants growing in our yard.
When I was 12, we moved to a new house about a mile down the road. My parents actually wrote the rhubarb into sales agreement, stipulating that the rhubarb was not included in the sale of the house. Hey, they weren't taking any risks on losing those plants in some kind of legal dispute! So, once again, my dad dug up the rhubarb plants, wrapped them lovingly in newspaper and plastic, and moved them to our new family home. Those rhubarb plants were replanted before the boxes were unpacked.
Year after year, the plants have come back strong. Some years are better than others, depending on how rainy or cool the spring is. But no matter how large or small the plants are that year, it is the most incredible rhubarb I have ever seen or tasted. It is always tender and sweet, never woody, even during those years when stalks grow 1 1/2 inches in diameter and almost 2 1/2 feet long! I once measured a leaf 30 inches in diameter. Yes, I've been spoiled with magical rhubarb, and so have our friends who come pick it and who get to eat tasty rhubarb treats. Last year my dad divided one of the plants and sent roots down to my new sister-in-law's family in Kansas.
I love knowing that those rhubarb roots have history. They reflect my family's roots in the land and in the kitchen. Each year, the rhubarb roots sprout new life, but they remained grounded in the earth, grounded in tradition, just as our family is growing and changing, but honors and cherishes our history. I have so many memories associated with these plants: wrapping grass and weeds and lilac flowers up in the huge rhubarb leaves and leaving them out for the rabbits as "bunny sandwiches", bringing warm pies to my grandparents' houses for May birthday celebrations, poking the dewy sugar drops on the meringue topping of my grandma's Rhubarb Custard Torte, enjoying warm rhubarb sauce over ice cream on hot days, harvesting stalk after stalk late at night for midnight baking projects with my mom. These memories help celebrate times with loved ones and tie me to my family memories who went before. Food is an important tie to the past, and my family's rhubarb tradition is something makes me feel the love and closeness we share. I love knowing that my great-grandparents ate rhubarb pies made from these same plants. How cool is that? It is almost like great-grandma is right there with me when I'm picking a stalk.
Some day I will have the rhubarb in my own yard, wherever that ends up. I will hopefully have the opportunity share it a partner, with children, and with friends. I will tell the story of the rhubarb and where it came from. And I'll serve them all delicious things, like this tasty recipe I'm sharing with you today. In a way, I consider all of you part of my extended family, and this blog is like a huge dinner table.
And finally, as promised, delicious recipe.
In the spirit of communing around a tasty treat, I'm kicking off this month's SOS Challenge with a recipe for a delicious Rhubarb Strawberry Crumb Cake with Rosewater and Pine Nuts.
My recent fascination with crumb cake is something of a mystery to me, as I was never really a fan of crumb cake in my gluten-eating days. Lately, though, I've been a crumb cake monster. Heck, I've been a fruity dessert monster in general. It all started with a rhubarb strawberry pie I made for my mom's birthday, shortly followed up by another rhubarb pie, and another. Then a blueberry crumb cake I made on May Day. Then there was the oatmeal blueberry breakfast cake. Then crisp after crisp after crisp for no apparent reason. And now this crumb cake. I'm out of control! I just really love to bake, I really like to share baked goods with other people, and baking with fruit almost always turns out better than baking without fruit. Here's a few photos of my recent exploits...
My mom has a recipe for Rhubarb Cake that is absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, that is one rhubarb recipe that I don't have in my box, and my impulsive baking project last night didn't give me time to call her up. So, I came up with this, and served it to my coworkers this morning. And you know what? It is darn tasty, kind of a wholegrain healthy twist on the classic crumbcake. I actually had a different recipe all written up to post today, but was too excited about this crumb cake not to post it. Impulsive baking wins again! That other rhubarb recipe will be posted later this month, don't worry.
This crumb cake has moist, tender, dense layers of cake on the bottom and top, with a jammy layer of rosewater-scented strawberries and rhubarb sandwiched in the middle. It is all topped off with a pine nut and quinoa flake crumble topping. This cake is not overly sweet, which I like, and has a nutty, earthy flavor that is an interesting contrast to the tart berries. It could easily be sweetened up if you have a serious sweet tooth. It can easily be made vegan, doesn't use xanthan or guar gum, and can also be made totally sugar-free if you like (I used a little maple syrup along with stevia). To be perfectly honest, I increased the amount of rosewater and stevia a bit in the recipe below from what I did, because I think it needed just a little bit more. I hope it works! Again, impulsive baking and changes on the fly.
I hope you make this and enjoy it with people you love. And I can't wait to see what you make with rhubarb this month!
Rhubarb Strawberry Crumb Cake with Rosewater and Pine Nuts
yield 1 9"x13" pan, approximately 20 to 24 squares
This is an earthy, whole grain twist on the classic crumb cake. It isn't super sweet, but the rosewater adds a flowery aroma and flavor that provides a nice lightness. Since rhubarb is related to buckwheat, I thought it would be nice to use buckwheat flour, so I opted for home ground white buckwheat flour, made from whole buckwheat groats. Grinding your own white buckwheat flour is easy to do, and yields a lovely, fresh, and delicious flour. I know, I know, there are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but I think it is worth it! Unlike many of my recipes, this uses maple syrup, about 1/3 cup in total, along with the stevia. You could substitute brown rice, agave, or yacon syrup, or possibly even vegetable glycerin for the maple syrup. If you can't tolerate any sugar-containing sweeteners, try omitting it and and using more stevia, but keep in mind you may need to add a little extra non-dairy milk to make up for the liquid the sweetener provides.
2 cups rhubarb, finely chopped (fresh or frozen, if using frozen do not allow to thaw)
2 cups strawberries, finely chopped (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbsp maple syrup (omit for ACD and add more stevia)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp vitamin C crystals or 2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp arrowroot starch
1 1/2 Tbsp rosewater
1/8 tsp stevia extract powder
1 cup quinoa flour (or amaranth flour)
1 cup white buckwheat flour *see note
1/4 cup arrowroot starch (or tapioca starch)
3/4 cup quinoa flakes
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon or 2 Tbsp mesquite flour
1/2 tsp stevia extract powder (you may want to add 1/8-1/4 tsp more, the cake could have been a bit sweeter)
12 Tbsp cold coconut oil, ghee, or Spectrum shortening, cut into small pieces (I used a mix of ghee & shortening)
2 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 6 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp maple syrup (omit for ACD and add more stevia)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used homemade rice milk, but any milk should work)
1/4 cup quinoa flakes
1/4 cup quinoa flour, amaranth flour, or white buckwheat flour
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 Tbsp cold Spectrum shortening,cold ghee, or cold coconut oil, cut into small pieces
pinch stevia powder
optional: 2-3 Tbsp maple syrup for drizzling
Heat oven to 350º F and oil a 9"x13" cake pan.
Whisk together flaxmeal and water in a small bowl and let sit while preparing other ingredients.
While the flax mixture sits, finely chop fruit. Combine with other filling ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat and bring to a boil while stirring, then cool for 2-3 minutes, until mixture has thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool while preparing other ingredients.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, whisking briskly to make light. Cut in cold coconut oil/ghee/shortening until mixture is evenly crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together flax mixture, maple syrup, non-dairy milk, and vanilla until smooth, then add to dry ingredients, folding together until just mixed. Batter will be quite thick, but add a little more milk if it seems WAY too thick.
Immediately spread 2/3 of the cake batter into the prepared well-oiled pan, then spread fruit mixture over the top gently. Spoon remaining batter over the top and try to cover the fruit as best you can, spreading gently (thin out batter a little bit if you need to with more non-dairy milk).
Mix together crumble topping in a small bowl by cutting chunks of cold oil/ghee/shortening into other ingredients until crumbly, and then sprinkle all over the top of the cake. Place cake in a preheated oven and bake for 50 minutes, until cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, place on a rack, and drizzle remaining 2-3 Tbsp of maple syrup over the top of the cake. Let cool completely before slicing, otherwise you'll end up with a very crumbly mess! Cut into 20-24 squares, and serve.
White Buckwheat flour is ground whole, hulled buckwheat groats. It has a lighter flavor and texture than the dark, regular buckwheat flour that is widely available. It lends a moist, dense texture and doesn't become dry or crumby, so it is great for baking. I have never found white buckwheat flour for sale, so I grind my own. Just place whole buckwheat groats in a blender or coffee grinder and grind until fine and powdery. If you have a Vitamix, it works perfectly and is done in seconds. Regular blenders will take a little longer. You could use regular buckwheat flour in this recipe, but it will change the flavor and color significantly. I'd recommend trying out the white buckwheat flour!