Reviving Rhubarb

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While I might have made my grandmother cringe by reworking a family recipe for rhubarb cake I thought it would be a great way to combine both fresh rhubarb and strawberries.   The original recipe does not include strawberries, however, I couldn’t resist adding them because they are both in season right now and they pair perfectly well together. I realize that rhubarb might not necessarily strike in at one of your favorite foods, but I assure you that this “coffee-like” rhubarb cake will transform any rhubarb skeptics.

I am lucky to have a fresh supply of rhubarb from my grandparent’s garden throughout the beginning of summer, however, you can find it in the produce department in most grocery stores during the early summer months.  Even though rhubarb, a member of the buckwheat family, is technically a vegetable it is most commonly used as a fruit. In America it is usually coupled with strawberries and copious amounts of sugar to soften it’s tart bite. There are so many popular desserts to make with rhubarb like pies, cakes, breads, muffins and jams, as well as a number of satisfying savory dishes like salads, soups, sauces and chutneys to pair with meat.

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Another reason to enjoy rhubarb while it is in season: Rhubarb offers an abundant supply of vitamin A and it is said to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

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One important thing to note when you are working with fresh stalks of rhubarb is that the leaves are toxic.  They contain oxalic, so they should be removed! Only the brightly colored stalks are edible.  You might also notice that there are two common varieties of rhubarb. Right now field grown rhubarb is available.  It is in season is from March to October and it peaks from April to June. Field grown rhubarb has a distinct flavor and it has bright red stalks with vibrant green leaves. The second common variety of rhubarb is known as hothouse rhubarb.  It is milder in flavor and it has pink stalks with yellow-green leaves.  It is available December through March.

When you are at the store or a famer’s market you should choose rhubarb with stalks that are bright and crisp (they should not be soft or bendable) with undamaged leaves.  Rhubarb is highly perishable, so to store it you should wrap it tightly and place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  You can store it like that for up to three days. Before you use it, remove the leaves and wash thoroughly.

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The next time you see rhubarb at the store don’t shy away from it.  Pick up a few stalks and try making this cake.  It will instantly become a family favorite! Here is the (modified) recipe:

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Fresh Rhubarb Cake

Yields 15 servings

Ingredients for the Cake

1/2 cup of shortening

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 egg

1 cup of sour milk (add 1 Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon to regular milk)

1 teaspoon of baking soda

2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon of flour

3 Tablespoons of red sugar (sprinkles)

1 1/2 cups of Rhubarb (diced)

1 1/2 cups of strawberries (diced)

Ingredients for the Topping

1/3 cup of brown sugar

1/3 cup of chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts but you can use whatever you have one hand)

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions

Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar with 1 cup of milk and set aside.  Preheat you oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×11 pan.

Cream together the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer.  Then add the salt, vanilla and egg.  Disolve the baking soda in the sour milk.  Slowly alternate between adding the sour milk mixture and the flour to the batter.

Once combined add in the red sprinkles (for a pink hued colored cake), the strawberries, and rhubarb.  Pour into your greased pan.

Combine the brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the cake.  Place on the middle rack in the oven and cook for one hour. Check the cake after an hour with a cake tester or tooth pick.  If the tester comes out clean from the center of the cake remove and let cool completely.  If not, place back into the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes keeping a close eye on it.  Note that the moisture from the fruit will vary the cooking time.

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Enjoy your piece of cake as dessert or as a meal by itself!

Sources: 
“The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion (Deluxe Edition) [Hardcover].” The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion (Deluxe Edition): Sharon Tyler Herbst, Ron Herbst: 9780764162411: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. 10 Dec. 2012. (370)
"Rhubarb Nutrition - What Is Rhubarb - Is It Healthy/ How Many Calories." Rhubarb Recipes at Rhubarb-Central.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2013.