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Versatile rhubarb can be the start of many desserts

Pucker up — it’s rhubarb season.

Plenty of people claim to not like rhubarb, but most of them have never even tried it, scared off by its tart reputation.

But mixed with the right amount of sugar, this spring crop will turn your pucker into a smile.

“A lot of people just don’t know what to do with it,” said Jill Wolf, a teacher at the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, Ohio, and pastry chef at Luxe Restaurant in Cleveland.

Wolf teaches classes on rhubarb, showing how this versatile vegetable can be the start of so many desserts.

With rhubarb, it’s the pretty red stalks that you want. The leaves, which contain oxalate, can actually act as a poison and cause serious illness; they should not be eaten.

Harold Blachly, a Stark County rhubarb grower, said rhubarb actually comes in red and green varieties, but he finds that most people aren’t interested in the green. It’s the signature red color that cooks expect from their rhubarb, he said.

Blachly, 62, had been growing and eating rhubarb all of his life. Rhubarb will grow all summer long, but he thinks the first spring crop is always the best.

Wolf said there was a time when most families had some rhubarb growing in their backyards. Rhubarb sauce was as expected a dish on the table as applesauce, she said.

While rhubarb must be sweetened to make it palatable, Wolf said if it is not oversweetened, it can make a good sauce for meats, much like the sweet-tart flavor of cranberry sauce.

Rhubarb is best known for its use in desserts — rhubarb or strawberry-rhubarb pies are classic American fare.

Mixing this tart vegetable with fruit, particularly berries, makes a good combination for crumbles, cobblers and cakes.

Orange zest also is good for pairing with rhubarb to bring out its flavor. Much like tart lemon, Wolf likes to make a rhubarb sorbet to serve between courses as a palate cleanser.

If cooking or baking with rhubarb for the first time, Wolf recommends sticking close to the recipe until you determine how well you like the taste. Some cooks have a tendency to oversweeten it, she said.

For flavoring, cinnamon and nutmeg work well, along with orange peel.

Because rhubarb is in season now, here are some recipes to try it out in, including two sauces — a sweet one to be eaten like applesauce, and a less-sweet compote with orange and sage that is perfect for serving with grilled or roasted meats.

Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake

1½ cups packed brown sugar

½ cup shortening

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream

1½ cups chopped rhubarb (½-inch chunks)

Topping:

½ cup sugar

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter, softened

In a bowl, cream sugar, shortening and egg. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Gently fold in rhubarb until evenly distributed. Spoon into a greased 13x9-inch baking pan. Combine topping ingredients until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until done. Cool slightly before cutting into squares. Makes 12-15 servings.

Source: Taste of Home magazine

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

Rhubarb Cobbler

Filling:

2 cups diced fresh rhubarb

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ cup butter or shortening, chilled

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons milk

Arrange rhubarb in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, cinnamon and grated orange peel.

Make topping: Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder; cut in shortening until mixture looks like meal. Mix together beaten egg and milk; stir into flour mixture until dry ingredients are moistened. Drop dough by tablespoons over rhubarb mixture; spread dough together with a spatula.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until topping is lightly browned and filling is bubbly. Makes 6-8 servings.

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

Rhubarb-Orange Compote

2 cups chopped rhubarb

Juice and zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon dried sage

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, orange zest and juice, sage, sugar, ginger and salt. Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb falls apart. Serve with roasted turkey,pork, or chicken.

Adapted from “Grocery Gardening, Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food,” by Jean Ann Van Krevelen

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

Rhubarb Cream Pie

1½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

¾ teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs, well-beaten

3 cups cut-up rhubarb, mixed with a little flour

Pastry for double 9-inch pie crust

Blend sugar, flour, nutmeg and butter. Add eggs to mixture and beat until smooth. Add rhubarb and gently stir in. Pour into 9-inch pastry-lined pie pan. Top with pastry and seal edges together. Cut slits in top crust for steam to escape. Brush lightly with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 10 minutes in 450-degree oven. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Makes 6-8 servings.

Source: Jill Wolf

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

Rhubarb Sauce

4 cups chopped rhubarb

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt Put chopped rhubarb in a saucepan with a small amount of water (approximately ¼ to ½ cup), the sugar, vanilla and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 15 minutes. Cool. Serve as a side dish like applesauce, or serve warm over ice cream or as a jam on biscuits.

Makes about 4 cups.

Source: Jill Wolf

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

1¼ to 1½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Pastry for double piecrust

1 tablespoon butter

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch, salt and ground nutmeg. Add rhubarb pieces and sliced strawberries; toss gently to coat fruit. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare and roll out pastry. Fit half the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate and trim to edge of plate. Pour fruit mixture into crust. Dot with butter. Place top pastry over filling; seal and flute edge. Cut slits in top of pie to allow steam to escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Makes 6-8 servings.

Adapted from www.cooks.com.

The Wichita Eagle—06/02/10

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