Archive for May, 2009

The joys of rhubarb

Alice Waters has called rhubarb the vegetable bridge between the hard fruits of fall and winter and the soft fruits of summer.

I love rhubarb. More than asparagus, wild leeks, fiddleheads or even morels, rhubarb is my favourite food of Spring. I love how its colour subtly varies from green to ruby red along its stem, I love how its flavour stays tart and sharp, even after you add tons of sugar to it.

I buy pale pink forced rhubarb in January, though I always find there’s something lackin about it. Come May, I become obsessed with getting my hands on as much rhubarb as I can. My sister-in-law has a huge rhubarb patch in her back forty, and I’ve been bugging her incessantly to bring me some. (She doesn’t use it, anyway.) She did bring me some last week, and I put it to use right away:


Do you know the joys of rhubarb chutney? It is sweet, sour and aromatic. I learned this recipe years ago at a restaurant I worked at in Guelph. I eat it with pork chops, samosas, in grilled cheese sandwiches and it’s especially good with lamb.

Rhubarb Chutney

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 large onion, minced
1 tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¾ cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar

The method is simple: combine everything in a saucepan and simmer for at least an hour until the rhubarb is thoroughly cooked. You can eat it right away provided you have the right things to eat it with, but its flavour improves after a few days. It keeps well at least a month in the fridge.

That’s the savoury thing I do with rhubarb. For desserts, of course there is rhubarb crisp and just plain rhubarb compote that goes well with pancakes or pound cake.

But even with the harvest that my sis-in-law brought me, I still needed more. So I was happy to see a good supply at the grocery store today:


I’m not sure how I’ll use it all, but this cake is at the top of the list. This cake is a favourite at my house. It’s not too sweet, but feels decadent all the same – maybe because it’s so pretty. The anise flavour perfectly complements the rhubarb. If you don’t have buttermilk you can use milk or yogurt, but buttermilk makes the cake super light.

photo courtesy of Epicurious

photo courtesy of Epicurious

Upside-Down Rhubarb Anise Cake

For topping:
¼ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces

For cake:
1 teaspoon anise seeds, ground
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Over moderate heat, melt butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and reduce heat to low. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly onto bottom of skillet and heat, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all brown sugar will be melted). Remove skillet from heat and arrange rhubarb in one layer over the brown sugar, in a pretty pattern.

In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, anise, flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and add the vanilla.Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in batches alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Make sure not to overbeat – mix just until combined.

Spoon batter over rhubarb in skillet, spreading evenly (be careful not to disturb rhubarb), and bake cake in middle of oven until golden, about 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 15 minutes.
Run a thin knife around edge of skillet and invert a plate over skillet. Keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully remove skillet and serve cake warm or at room temperature.

What are your favourite things to do with rhubarb? Please send them may way!


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