This upcoming week will see the return of rhubarb to our Washington boxes, and we are excited to welcome it back. Rhubarb is a lovely plant that is useful in edible landscaping and cooking. Its sweet, tart taste has spiced up many a pie, and this week we wanted to take a moment to offer a tribute to this hardy little plant.
Rhubarb has been cultivated and eaten by humans for thousands of years. The Chinese plant catalogue, The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic, listed rhubarb as a medicinal herb around the year 700 BCE, praising it for its laxative qualities. In the early years of the 15th century, rhubarb was considered so valuable that the Spanish ambassador to the court of the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane in Samarkand listed rhubarb alongside silk, rubies, and diamonds as the most valuable merchandise traded in the city. The plant did not become widely used as a food until sugar (to cut the tart taste) became widely available, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
These days, rhubarb is a herald of the start of summer, finding its way into the classic strawberry-rhubarb pie in the United States or rhabarberkuchen in Germany, sold dipped in sugar in Scandinavian countries, made into jam, dried and infused with other fruit juices, or eaten raw.
Fun fact: did you know that the phrase “rhubarb rhubarb” was once commonly used by British radio and theater actors to mimic the sound of unintelligible conversations in a crowd? Actors in the background of sets would repeat the phrase over and over to each other in order to create the kind of murmuring swell of voices one would hear in a crowded restaurant or street market.
Here’s a fun little recipe for a German rhabarberkuchen, a tart treat that falls somewhere between a pie and a cake (except this one has a twist- merengue topping!). This comes to us from the food blog My Kitchen in the Rockies, which also features other fun recipes.
21 ounces (600 g) rhubarb, peeled and cubed
2 Tablespoons sugar
⅓ cup 1½ Tablespoon (100 g) butter, unsalted and at room temp.
⅔ cup (130 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1¼ cup (150 g) flour
1¾ ounces (50 g) roasted almonds, ground
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 egg whites
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
sliced almonds for topping
Preheat the oven to 350F Convection. Grease a round 26 cm Spring pan (9½ inch).
Wash, dry and peel the rhubarb. Cut it in little pieces, mix with 2 tablespoon of sugar and let sit for at least ½ hour. It will extract a lot of water that needs to be drained. Pat rhubarb dry for further use.
In a kitchen machine beat together butter, sugar and vanilla extract until the butter is fluffy and the sugar is dissolved. Put in the eggs, one at a time and mix well.
In a separate bowl sift together flour, ground almonds, salt and baking powder, add slowly to the egg mixture. Don’t over mix.
Fill dough into the spring pan, top with dried rhubarb and bake for 25 min.
In the mean time prepare the meringue/ baiser topping. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the sugar until meringue is firm and shiny.
Spread the meringue evenly over the rhubarb and decorate with almond slices. Return to the oven for another 15 min. Cover the cake with aluminum foil after 5 min. in case the meringue does turn too dark.
Cool completely before removing the cake from the pan.
Hope you enjoy this tasty treat!