I came late to rhubarb.
My mother, an expert pie maker, never made rhubarb, and neither did either of my grandmothers. There is no rhubarb in my heritage.
What I did know of rhubarb was not promising; that it’s tart until cooked with sugar, that its leaves are poisonous, and that the name is derived from Latin that roughly means a plant brought by barbarians.
A few years back, overcome by the beauty (and reasonable price) of rhubarb at Briermere Farm on Sound Avenue near Riverhead, I finally took the plunge.
Now I am a zealot for rhubarb.
A month ago, I realized that although I thought I was walking my dog in the parking area of Briermere Farm that is adjacent to a field of rhubarb, I was actually ignoring my hound to stare at the growing crop. Leaves looking healthy? Any sign of the stiff red stalks that indicate quality?
It’s true that rhubarb leaves are toxic, but the oxalic acid that they contain is so diluted that you would have to eat about 10 pounds of leaves to do yourself in, and they are so bitter, tough and fuzzy that you would be much better off cracking open peach pits or cherry pits if you are trying to poison yourself with fruit. Reassured?
I’m happy to report that the rhubarb is ready and it is divine. However, rhubarb doesn’t love hot weather, so I have to enjoy it while I can.
When I buy several pounds of rhubarb (fewer than 10 pounds seems prudent) I cook it all at once, using some for a cobbler or pie. The rest I save in the refrigerator to go with anything creamy, from yogurt at breakfast, to avocado toast at lunch, to rice pudding or ice cream for dessert.
Yields 6 to 8 cups cooked
4 pounds of rhubarb, leaves removed and discarded, each stem cut into one inch pieces.
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons garam masala
Freshly-grated zest of 2 lemons.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Toss the rhubarb pieces with the sugar, garam masala and lemon zest.
3. Scrape into a casserole dish or lasagna pan (shallow and wide, not deep) and cover with foil.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, remove from the oven, give it a stir.
5. If you are making a cobbler, take out 3 cups.
6. Continue cooking the rest, stirring every 10 minutes, until the rhubarb pieces have collapsed.
7. Cool covered, in the pan and put into jars to store in refrigerator.
Rhubarb Avocado Toast
4 slices of a high-quality crusty bread, such as a baguette split lengthwise
1 large ripe avocado
4 tablespoons of Multitasking Rhubarb
2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds or chopped pistachios
Coarse sea salt
1. Toast the bread.
2. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and holding the avocado in one hand, cut up the flesh with a fork. Scoop out the cut-up flesh and spread it on the toast.
3. Top each toast with a tablespoon of rhubarb, the seeds and a sprinkle of salt.
3 cups of partly-cooked (30 minutes at 350 degrees) Multitasking Rhubarb
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cold butter
¼ cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Scrape the partly-cooked rhubarb into an 8-inch casserole 2 to 3 inches deep.
3. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
4. Cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
5. Mix the milk and the egg with a fork, and add to the flour mixture. Stir only until the ingredients are moistened.
6. Allow the flour to absorb the liquid for a few minutes, and then drop the dough by the spoonful on top of the partly-cooked rhubarb.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, until the dough is brown and the rhubarb is bubbling.
8. Serve warm, with a dollop of ice-cream.