Far too often, I meet people who say they don’t like rhubarb.
Impossible, I say. If you don’t like it, that must just mean you haven’t tried it.
I understand why rhubarb is difficult to love. Raw, it looks like a stalk of overgrown princess celery, all pink and green and woody. And if you would happen to sample rhubarb before it’s properly sugared and cooked, it would be bitter and unpleasantly fibrous.
But when it’s doused in sugar and surrounded by pie crust or muffin batter or smeared on toast, rhubarb turns into a sweet-and-tart treat that’s perfect for summer. That’s when my grandma Dorothy would grow it in her back garden in Missouri every year, then chop the stalks and turn them into the best pie and cobbler I’ve ever had. Now, my dad is a rhubarb grower, and he always bags the excess so I can freeze it and enjoy it all year.
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Rhubarb can be found in season in Wichita’s bigger grocery stores and frequently at high-end markets like Whole Foods. You can sometimes get it at Wichita farmers markets in the summer, and on occasion I’ve found it sliced and bagged in the freezer section of the grocery store.
What better time to give rhubarb a chance than on the eve of the retirement of Garrison Keillor, the longtime radio talk show host who loves rhubarb so much, he made it the fictional sponsor of his “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.
Its jingle, regularly played on the show:
“One little thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie
Serve it up, nice and hot
Maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought.
Momma’s little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb, Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie.
Rhubarb also can be used in savory dishes, but I like it sweet. Here are a few preparations that will ease you into the cult of rhubarb, one of summer’s best treats.
Dorothy Neil’s Rhubarb Dessert
My mom still has this recipe in my grandma Dorothy’s handwriting. The dessert is buttery and sweet and as easy to prepare as it comes. You can substitute several fruits for rhubarb, too, including peaches or blueberries. If you want to curb the rhubarb tartness, you can use half sliced strawberries with the rhubarb.
3 cups of rhubarb, chopped
1 stick butter
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350. Put chopped rhubarb in a bowl with one cup of the sugar. Stir and let sit.
Put stick of butter in a 13x9 baking dish and put it in the oven. Let the butter melt.
Sift remaining 1 cup of sugar with flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk and vanilla. Once the butter is melted, take the dish out and pour the batter evenly over the top. Sprinkle the sugared rhubarb over the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Sour Cream Rhubarb Muffins
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Cream brown sugar and butter. Add sour cream and eggs, mix well.
Sift together flour, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Stir flour mixture into the sour cream mixture until moistened.
Mix chopped rhubarb with 1/2 cup of sugar, then fold it into the batter. Pour into greased muffin tins.
Mix together sugar and remaining cinnamon and sprinkle over batter. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Adapted from food.com
10 ounces rhubarb (about 3 medium stalks), cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 cups seltzer or 1 bottle (750 ml) dry sparkling wine, chilled
Lemon and pink grapefruit slices, halved (optional)
In a medium saucepan, stir rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb breaks down completely, about 6 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Divide syrup among 8 glasses. Top with seltzer or sparkling wine. Garnish with lemon and grapefruit slices, if desired. Serve immediately