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Come spring and early summer, the very sight or mention of rhubarb delivers an avalanche of responses from readers whose memories trigger thoughts from the past.

Living in Wisconsin, rhubarb seems to go with the territory and takes me back to a childhood day when I positioned myself in our backyard garden between Daddy’s beautiful rhubarb plants and, with a salt shaker, tested a stalk with a shake or two that didn’t turn out as sweet as I thought it would. If people salted celery stalks, why wouldn’t it work on stalks of rhubarb? It took less than a simple nibble to learn why.

Surrounding rhubarb plants and along every border in the backyard as well as the sides of our house were annuals and perennials Daddy planted and cared for with diligence throughout the growing season. How well I remember his enthusiasm and the many hours spent every week with garden tools planting and caring for beautiful roses, hybrid iris, bleeding hearts, my favorite pansies, snapdragons, petunias and so much more — including red geraniums that had been his mother’s favorite.

Rhubarb kuchen

Mother’s talent then provided lovely scents and colors throughout the house in carefully arranged vases of different shapes and sizes. She also made delicious rhubarb pies and a kuchen someone brought to my attention during Festa Italia weekend — a recipe that once appeared here and one the reader loved and misplaced. Here it is again, one of my favorites, too, copied from her beautiful penmanship.

1 ¼ cups sifted flour

½ cup butter

2-3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

3 cups rhubarb, cut in ½-inch pieces

¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter

Blend flour, butter, sugar, salt and baking powder with fingers or fork until crumbly. Mix egg and milk and add to flour mixture with a fork. Butter fingers and press lightly into a 7x11-inch baking pan, or square or round coffee cake pan. Spread rhubarb on top of dough. Make streusel with ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and butter. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Bake at 375 degrees for 60 minutes. Serve warm, plain or with whipped cream.

Rhubarb cake

Rhubarb recipes continue to arrive. Referred to as one of the first joys of summer, rhubarb shows its versatility with the old-fashioned stalk used in everything from bread, desserts and beyond with beverages, soups and main meals.

The late Iva Breneman was an outstanding cook who had saved a box filled with her favorite recipes. One of those favorites was a rhubarb cake recipe recently shared by her daughter, Carol Geick, who made sure it was baked and enjoyed during the family’s annual Memorial Day picnic.

4 cups of sliced rhubarb

1 cup sugar

A little cinnamon

2 tablespoons melted butter

Batter:

1 ½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter a 9x9-inch pan. Put 4 cups sliced rhubarb in pan. Sprinkle with 1 cup sugar, a little cinnamon and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Beat 2 eggs well and add 1 cup sugar a little at a time. Stir in ½ cup of hot water and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Combine with sifted ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. “Dump out on plate” and sprinkle with more cinnamon. Serves 9.

Rhubarb coconut cookies

Pat Leonard, McFarland, shared a recipe she describes as being “very good” from a “Taste of Home: 30 Minute Cookbook,” published in 1997.

½ cup shortening

1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt (optional)

¼ cup milk

1 cup finely-diced rhubarb

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 cup raisins

½ cup flaked coconut

In mixing bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg; beat well. Combine dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk and mix well. Stir in rhubarb, nuts, raisins and coconut. Drop by tablespoons onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Do not overbake. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 3 dozen

“Blubarb” crunch

Author Carol Frieberg’s 1990 cookbook, “Breakfast In Bed,” featuring the best B&B Recipes from Northern California to British Columbia includes a rhubarb crunch recipe using blueberries and a clever title.

4 cups rhubarb, in 1-inch pieces

2 cups blueberries

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ cup water

Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

½ cup butter, melted

½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon juice and water; mix well. Pour into a greased 9x12-inch baking dish.

For topping, in a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, oats, butter, and walnuts, if desired. Sprinkle topping over fruit. Bake for 45 minutes, until rhubarb is tender. Best served warm. 8 servings

Strawberry-rhubarb pie

From “The Joy of Rhubarb,” “an all-time favorite.”

9-inch double pie crust

Filling

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 pint fresh strawberries, halved

1 pound fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line bottom crust into a 9-inch pie plate; set aside.

Filling: Mix first five ingredients in a large bowl until blended. Add strawberries, rhubarb and vanilla; toss to coat. Spoon mixture into prepared crust; dot with butter. Cover with top crust. Cut several slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Tuck edges over and flute. Bake about 45 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust golden brown. Cool to room temperature before cutting. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped topping. Refrigerate leftovers. 8 servings

Cold strawberry-rhubarb soup

From the same “Joy of Rhubarb” cookbook, a cold rhubarb soup to enjoy and appreciate.

3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 cups water

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 cup strawberries

1/3 cup dry white wine

Bring rhubarb, water, sugar and orange peel to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Cool. Place half the mixture into a blender container. Add strawberries; blend on high until smooth. Stir mixture into remaining soup; add wine and mix thoroughly. Serve well-chilled.Serves 4

Happy Father’s Day!

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Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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