Sunday, October 21, 2012


Rhubarb – vegetable or fruit?  I can’t tell you how many times a season I get asked this very question.   Another thing I’m always surprised at is how many visitors have never seen nor tasted rhubarb.  So I decided to do a little research and with the help of the internet I found the following facts that I thought might be of interest:
First let me answer the age old question - Rhubarb is indeed a vegetable however for centuries has been prepared mainly like fruit in pies, desserts, jams, etc.  However in the last ten or fifteen years rhubarb has successfully found its way into restaurants to accompany savory dishes.

Rhubarb has been used in China for medicinal purposes since 2700 BC.  The particular root from China is not easily grown outside of China but other varieties have been successfully propagated around the world.  Health benefits include low in carbohydrates, high fiber, vitamin C and potassium.  The only edible part of the plant is the reddish/green stalk.  The leaves are toxic.  If you are lucky enough to live in a favorable climate and grow rhubarb just be sure to break off the seed pods when they first appear in early spring and then cover the plant with steer manure in late fall.  

Rhubarb found its way to America in the late 1700s (reportedly by Benjamin Franklin) and Russians are credited with having brought rhubarb to Alaska in the late 1800s for the purpose of fighting scurvy.  By the 1900s rhubarb was entrenched in kitchens in most northern climates.  It is difficult to grow in a hot climate.  It nearly grows wild in Alaska. 

Some will say that a rhubarb plant will produce edible stems for up to 15 years.  Well I can attest that I have had my rhubarb plants for well over 40 years.  I’ve served it at the B&B for 26 years with the majority of guests enjoying it very much.  However, there’s always one or two each summer that don’t care for the tartness. 

I wish I could take credit for the following recipes however the Rhubarb-Cherry Pie came from a dear friend in Fairbanks and I am not sure where she got it from.  The “Big Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake” came from and has been a favorite at the House of Jade ever since I found it on-line.  I would have never thought to marry ginger with rhubarb but it’s really a nice combination.  Just as a side note, my husband, Yves doesn’t care for rhubarb but he really loves this coffeecake and says it’s as good as the best French pastries (which he dearly loves).  I hope you’ll enjoy it also.
‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake with Rhubarb
Adapted from The New York Times 6/6/07

Butter for greasing pan

For the rhubarb filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour (I was out and used all-purpose and it worked great)

For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (ditto on the all-purpose flour–worked just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs [this step now updated, see comment #150] in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Dee Memoune hosts Alaska House of Jade and is one of the Innkeepers of  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association


Marilyn said...

Dee. I really enjoyed your post! Both the history and background, and the recipe... which looks really wonderful and which I definitely plan to try. Thanks for sharing!

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