Either you love it, or you don’t think that much about it. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in between. I’m talking rhubarb here. It’s like the red-headed stepchild of the vegetable patch. If it’s not in your DNA, you disregard it—always choosing around it when presented with a rhubarb dessert opportunity, even if mixed with the beloved strawberry. But if your grandma always grew a few plants on the edge of her garden and made one of the most memorable pies of your childhood, or your mother tended to a motley row along the side of the house and made a lovely red syrup for your ice cream, you may just possess a soft spot in your heart and your belly for this strange, red, vegetable.
I’m in camp two—I haven’t thought about it much. My gardening grandmother was more of a zucchini woman (more on that this summer), and my mother bought cans of Hershey’s syrup (the kind you had to pierce with a triangle can opener) for my ice cream. Nary a red stalk was in sight during my upbringing in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. As a kid rhubarb was up there with the chilled monkey brains from The Temple of Doom. Strange and undesirable.
These days, thankfully, my palate has diversified substantially, and I’m finding myself rhu-curious. Washington state grows the most rhubarb in the United states, and being that I live in the Yakima Valley, one of the most agriculturally rich areas in said state, the rhubarb hunt was on. Shelley and I hit the open road earlier this week, and we weren’t going to stop until we were plush with rhubarb stalks.
Rhubarb season + ubiquitous agriculture = easy pickings. Not true. We called several fruit stands and even a local grocer that we know sources from this area with no luck. Thinking that the long and lovely Lateral A Road couldn’t let us down, we called the Dagdagan Fruit stand, and Eureka! We struck rhubarb. When we arrived, there were only a scant few stalks, sharing the edge of the spring onion bin. “Is there more?” we asked. It just so happens that all they have is from three plants growing in their yard nearby. They said they would be happy to run home and cut some for us. This was one of those rooted moments that got us all choked up, we were so touched. We asked if we could tag along to take some pictures and next thing we knew, we were standing under a clear blue sky next to Roland Dagdagan as he hacked stalks of rhubarb for us with a machete in his driveway. We ended up with a nine-pound box.Shelley had pie on the mind. I was feeling a crisp coming on. Our awesome chef collaborator friend, Jessica Smith, said she wanted to do something a bit more savory and whipped up a vinaigrette. We ended up with three winners. Rhubarb has such a lovely tang and texture to it. I have officially switched camps. Perhaps I still have time to change the gene expression on my children’s DNA. There may be a motley row of red stalks in our near future.
Rhubarb Pie (recipe)
6 cups unpeeled, diced young rhubarb stalks
1/2 cup flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoon orange rind
Preheat oven to 450⁰F. Combine all ingredients and place rhubarb mixture in a large deep-dish pie plate with an uncooked pie shell then dot with butter. Roll out top crust and place on top of pie. Fold top edge of crust under bottom crust and pinch as you like. Sprinkle a bit of sugar on the top of the pie then place in pre-heated oven on middle rack. Let cook for 10 minutes then lower the temperature to 350⁰F and cook another 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Rhubarb Crisp (recipe)
8 cups rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup flour
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 cup rolled oats
1⁄2 cup melted butter
- Combine rhubarb, sugar, flour and cinnamon and put into 8″ x 8″ x 2″ glass baking dish.
- Combine flour, brown sugar, rolled oats and melted butter and sprinkle streusel over rhubarb mixture.
- Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
from Jessica Smith
8 ounces rhubarb, diced
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger root
1 cup dry Riesling
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
½ cup light flavored oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Place the first 5 ingredients in a non-reactive sauce pan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Take mixture off heat and allow to cool. Once cool place 1 cup in a blender with the orange juice and oil, blend until smooth. Whisk the puree back into the remaining mixture and season with salt & pepper.