Friday, June 17, 2011

Rhubarb, Playing with Pies and my 101st Post!

Dr. Lostpast complains that I never make the same thing twice.  He says the minute that I make something that he loves, he knows he will never see it again.  As a mostly meat and potatoes guy, he balks at my exuberant investigations into odd organ meats (“sheep balls, are you joking?”) and exotic ingredients (ok, I did grow black furry mold on rotting barley for 3 weeks for an ancient sauce… but Murri’s really good!). 

Fact is, there are many things I make that I have made the same way for decades from my disreputable looking (but much loved) black book of recipes (and an even earlier green book that was started in college).  They are both full of my fool-proof favorites.  I really do make some things over and over!

When I have rhubarb, I go to the book and use the recipe for rhubarb pie.  It is nearly instinctual.  It is always delicious, but I haven’t changed it for… well… decades!

It’s time to mix it up a little and try something new  (I can hear a virtual groan coming from the Doctor’s study although he doesn’t even like rhubarb pie, “Enough with the new, already!).  I decided to begin at the beginning and learn about rhubarb–– about which, I discovered, I knew nothing.

I’d really never thought about it, just ate it! I had a rhubarb patch in my backyard as a kid and had ‘rhubarb sauce’ a lot growing up.  When I got my own house, it came with a very substantial, well-established patch and I started making pies and cobblers with my diminutive forest of ruby stalks. A friend even made a remarkable dish of fried rhubarb dumplings with strawberry sauce.  I never gave the plant itself much thought and believed (in a vague, fuzzy sort of way) it was another gift from our Western European forebears, like apples and cherries (that are actually Persian and came to England with the Romans!) and it was, in a way.  Benjamin Franklin brought the first rhubarb over from England (a Banbury apothecary named Hayward obtained Russian seeds in 1762) and it took off in 19th century America, but, it is not originally from Western Europe, the site Homecooking  tells me, it was indigenous to China and Russia! 

Its binomial name is rheum rhabarbarum (genus rheum in the family of polygonaceae. it is related to tomatillos and amaranth––you can see the relationship to amaranth in the seed stalk on the rhubarb plant).  Rheum comes from the Greek rheuma, meaning "a flowing".  Rhabarbarum comes from the Greek word Rha (or the Sythian word Rhā) for the Volga River (the longest river in Europe) and barbarum (from the Greek barbaron) is "foreign",  (a comment, perhaps, on the non-Roman and thus uncivilized inhabitants of the region—although the pejorative nature of the word may be more modern…). Rhubarb grew wild along the banks of that river. Although it had already been imported to Europe in a dried form for centuries, rhubarb wasn’t introduced to Europe as a growing plant until 1608 when the Italian botanist, Prosper Alpinus began to grow rhubarb in Italy to undercut the price of the expensive imported Chinese root.  It was used as a root first, you see. The stalks were not eaten… rather the root was used medicinally as an excellent purgative by the Chinese (as far back as 2700 years ago) and later much prized in Europe for its effectiveness in curing GI issues. 

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Eliza Rundell, 1807

It was not until sugar became truly available and affordable that the rhubarb stalk was used as food.  I discovered on the Kitchen Project site  (via the Oxford Companion for Food) that the first published recipe was Maria Eliza Rundell’s in 1807.  It was used in the Middle East much earlier thanks to the Silk Road trade coming from the magical kingdom of Samarkand (isn’t that the most romantically exotic sounding place?) as my friend Laura Kelly at The Silk Road Gourmet pointed out when she used it in a spectacular lamb dish.  Her post actually started me down the rhubarb road when she said it was from the East  ––  not old Europe as I had always believed.

To honor rhubarb, the plant that kept England from a scurvy epidemic during WWII (and made a generation of Britons hate the stuff mightily), a plant that is full of Calcium, Vitamin C, K and Potassium and just darn good for you, I give you two recipes.  One is an Alsatian rhubarb tart from Jean-George Vongerichten via Food and Wine ––and the other is my own recipe with some new additions of rose and ginger. 

The ginger addition began with a recipe for ginger rhubarb cobbler I saw a few weeks back, and then Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie had a rhubarb ginger chutney that looked wonderful.  Next I saw a rhubarb trifle with ginger beer jelly… it was like ginger and rhubarb were in the air!  And why the rose?  Simple, rose and ginger are wonderful together (Aftelier makes a delicious tea with them).  Both recipes are a great way to use the gregariously growing plant.

Rhubarb Pie

2 c strawberries (raspberries or cherries are also great… just add a little more sugar)
4 c ½ “ size pieces of rhubarb
short ¾ c sugar for a tart pie, 1 cup for a sweeter version
1/3 c flour
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 T butter
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t allspice
1 T cassis or framboise
2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 2 t rosewater
2 drops Aftelier ginger essence   or 1 t grated ginger
1 pie crust
1 – 2 T Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Combine all the ingredients except the Demerara.  Allow to sit for an hour while you wait for the pie crust.

Put the filling on the dough and dot with butter.

Place on a foil covered cookie sheet.

Bake at 375º for 1 hour 15 minutes (maybe a bit more depending on fruit, check your oven, when crust is browned slightly and the fruit soft,  the pie is ready).  Press down on the top pieces of fruit and let the dry bits sink into the liquid.  Sprinkle with the demerara sugar just before serving so it sparkles.


1 cup AP flour
¼ c whole-wheat flour
½ t salt
1 T sugar
2 T chopped pecans (or walnuts or almonds)
1 stick frozen butter in small chunks
2 T frozen lard in small chunks (optional)
¼ to 1/3 c ice water

Combine the flour, salt, sugar and pecans in the processor and blend. Add the butter and lard and give it a whirl or 2 till lightly blended with lots of butter bits visable.  Remove the blade and toss in the water all around the dough.  Blend gently with a fork (I think using the processor for this breaks it up too much).

Remove the dough in small handfuls you sort of squeeze together and place the handfuls on a floured surface.   Smear each handful flat (a gentle frissage) and place one on top of the other like pancakes with a bit of flour on the bottom of each (it’s what makes the crust flaky). You are not kneading the dough!  Round the pile a bit. Wrap in parchment or plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out the crust and place in a 9” pie pan, crimping the edges decoratively.  


Alsatian Rhubarb Tart from Food & Wine

.    2 cups all-purpose flour
.    1 teaspoon sugar
.    Pinch of salt
.    1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
.    1 large egg
.    2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ice water
.    2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/3-inch dice
.    1 1/3 cups sugar
.    1 cup heavy cream
.    2 large egg yolks
.    3 large egg whites
.    Pinch of salt

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse just until it is the size of peas. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the ice water. Drizzle the egg mixture over the dough and pulse just until evenly moistened; do not let it form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb with 1/2 cup of the sugar; transfer to a strainer. Set it over the bowl and refrigerate overnight to drain.
Preheat the oven to 375°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 14-inch round. Fit the pastry into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and trim the overhanging pastry.
Line the pastry with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake the tart shell in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry is set. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake the shell for about 10 minutes, or until cooked and the bottom is lightly golden.
Press on the rhubarb to extract as much liquid as possible. In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Spread the rhubarb in the shell and bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just tender.
In a medium bowl, whisk the cream with the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Pour the custard over the rhubarb and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until set.
Increase the oven temperature to 425° and position a rack in the upper third of the oven. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.

Spread the meringue over the tart all the way to the side. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 5 minutes, or just until the meringue is lightly browned. Let the tart cool, then remove the ring, slide the tart onto a cake plate and serve.

This is my 101st post which is a landmark of sorts.  Thanks to you all for your support!

Also, sorry if blogger is causing trouble.  Some can't leave comments at all, others must click twice to do it. I heard they are working on it so hopefully they will get it ironed out soon.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

This is timely. I have four cups of chopped rhubarb in the freezer, and I'm considering what to make. Until last year, I had never even cooked with rhubarb. While we now get it at the farm at the beginning of the season, but the season is very brief. So, my decision needs to be memorable, and probably incorporating the lovely strawberries we're getting. What a fantastic combination. Love the meringue topping!

Linda said...

Looks fabulous!
I adore rhubarb!

Diane said...

Congratulations on your 101 post quite an achievement. My rhubarb this year is a disaster, have bookmarked this for later use!! Diane

Lazaro Cooks said...

Reading this made me smile because I get the exact smae thing from my wife, she says that as soon as she falls for a dish, I never make it the same way again. She doesn't get the whole "kitchen is a playground" thing. Dishes always evolve and grow.

Rhubarb is a favortie of mine and would love to steal a slice from you, or the whole pie.

Congrats on the sucess of your wonderful blog. One of the five best food blogs I have come across in my many travels. Informative, thorough, and the cooking is spot on.

Be well.

tasteofbeirut said...

I used to get the same complaint from my ex; thankfully now I have children who don't have any expectations and understand my need to be constantly exploring in the kitchen. Children understand the ephemereal side of things. Well, this dish and the meringue looks like a keeper of course, and I am sure you will be called on to make it over and over again. I have yet to taste rhubarb!

Sarah G (All Our Fingers in the Pie) said...

Your pictures make me salivate! I love both of them. And thanks for the mention! It is not a good for garden rhubarb, unfortunately.

JackiWhitford said...

This is my first time seeing you blog (from a link to Aftel Perfumes on Facebook.) I am in love. I will be reading your blog from the beginning of your archive to the present. The pictures and text are scrumptious.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I should not have come here right before leaving for dinner. I could eat both of those desserts all by myself right now.

Very interesting history of rhubarb! After seeing so many rhubarb recipes, I finally bought a couple of plants and plopped them in my garden. Keeping fingers crossed for some delicious treats like these next year.

Barbara said...

I'm a purist, so much prefer my rhubarb sans strawberries. I'm definitely preferring the Alsatian tart. Or, my grandmother/mother's recipe, which I've been making for over 50 years now.
I did make a lovely rhubarb and kumquat chutney (didn't post it as I think everyone got sick of me and rhubarb) and a rhubarb panna cotta (ditto) so I do like experimenting with things other than pies and tarts. But I confess, a piece of warm rhubarb pie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is a total killer dessert for me.
Oddly, my kids never cared for rhubarb.

lucy said...

Beautiful pies that are good for you, what could be better? What treasures. Your energy astounds me. Possibly all that exquisitely thought out and beautiful food is the reason behind the vitality. Love the notebook and the pix of the pies are like the thinking person's dessert porn.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Firstly Deana, a big congratulations on your post milestone! May there be many, many more to come. And secondly thank you for these two recipes, they sound fabulous and I'm particularly intrigued by the Alsatian version! :D

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

My dear, dear Deana,

YOU are a genius when it comes to food and history. I have never encountered ANYONE in Blogland who has a food blog that is this INFORMATIVE, BEAUTIFUL, HISTORICAL and down right EYE CANDY FOR THE STOMACH. I am going to have to run out and get the magic ingredient: ROSE ESSENCE OR ROSE WATER. I have used ORANGE WATER before coupled with olive oil in FOUGASSE, and what a difference the exotic makes. AND that ever popular here in Minnesota. But your addition of the rose and ginger has GOT to make it a gourmet treat. I want to also encourage you to get out of that comfort zone and plow right in. You are so talented and I KNOW that with perseverance, you will one day publish. Your writing and knowledge has GOT TO BE MADE for a larger audience to see. Yes, you are so right, and so beautifully said in Italian that WE MUST OVERCOME THE WORST....our own demons that tell us we are sinking, falling and will crash. But what those demons can't take away are the wings we can strengthen when we build them up on the way down..I love that saying!

MUCH LUCK AND LOVE to you dear friend! Anita

Frank said...

I really like rhubarb, although I must admit I eat it rarely and cook it... well, I don't think I've ever cooked it. That should change and perhaps this recipe will help me do it!

And, by the way, I cannot imagine why anyone would actually complain that their partner didn't cook any dish twice. He doesn't know how lucky he is!

Magic of Spice said...

Congratulations on your 101st post! And what interesting history on rhubarb. Both of these look wonderful!
And as for playing with food, the only way to go ;) I am sure your guy is happy with whatever you make...

Elizabeth said...

As a huge fan of rhubarb, I've truly enjoyed reading this post!

Ken Albala said...

Perhaps best of all is when you say it over and over again. Upstage. Rhubarb Rhubarb, peas and carrots. Ken

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Laura Kelley @ Silk Road Gourmet said...

Hi Deana:

Wonderful and historic post!

The tart and pie look wonderful - I was constructing each one and tasting them as I read down the recipes. My favorite was the pie - very nice.

Thanks for noting the savory uses for the vegetable and linking to the posts on the recipe on Silk Road Gourmet.

The Persians have lots of uses for rhubarb, including a delicious sherbet drink that celebrates it tart qualities.

What's next?


Anonymous said...

Congrats on 101 entries to the blog. I know how much time and effort you put into these posts, and it truly shows. Like you I never thought much about the wonderful vegetable before, but have used it regularly. I had no idea it was particularly good for you. I'm planning a formal dinner party in the garden and think your pie will make a wonderful end to my meal. Thanks as always for the joy your posts bring to my day!


Faith said...

Wow, is that a huge rhubarb leaf! I love rhubarb but would you believe I've never cooked it myself? I really need to pick some up and give it a try...your gorgeous pie is calling my name!

Emily Malloy said...

This is absolutely fabulous!

So glad that I found your blog :)

Jonny said...

That rhubarb began it's culinary life as a medicinal root comes as no surprise to Brits like me who grew up being forced to eat it, holding our noses as we shoveled it down as if it were medicine. That said, I think the reason it's so maligned in the British Isles is because it was so often just boiled to hell and back and served as a gooey mess with an astringent tang with a side of quivering canary yellow Bird's Eye custard. I've had rhubarb served in pie form with apples before, but never ginger, and when done right it can be most enjoyable, balancing out the sweetness of the pie crust very nicely. You've inspired me to root out my grandmother's rhubarb blancmange recipe and give it a whirl. It was quite a sight to behold - even though it was delicious and unctuous - as kids we used to marvel at how much it looked like purple cellulite.

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

My grandmother made a similar rhubarb tart that I haven't thought about in years. Your post brought back some lovely memories.

Peter said...

Sad to say, our rhubarb is done for the year, but I did stash some in the freezer. Besides lovely pies like these, I've found that it's a wonderful complement to duck and takes very well to cooking sous vide so it doesn't turn to mush. It's always a struggle selling that idea to the child, who always just wants pie.

El said...

I so admire the degree to which you research your posts. I imagine that they would have had to wait for sugar because the rhubarb is so bitter. The pie you made is stunning.

Tasty Trix said...

I am almost ashamed to admit that I've never cooked with rhubarb. Does that make me a bad food blogger?? But as always you inspire me .... funny, I often chide myself for not cooking things I love more than once! Congrats on your 101st post - here's to 101 more! xoxo

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

It's funny - I didn't know what a rhubarb plant even looked like until I was at a farm in CT a couple of weeks ago. Now, because of your post, I even know where it came from. I'm getting so smart...

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