As American as Baseball and Rhubarb
Marveling at the red stalks in the produce aisle, Jack wanted to know what the heck you do with rhubarb. What’s it taste like? Do you eat it raw? How do you cook it? Do you have it with dinner or dessert? And what does it have to do with baseball?
When I was Jack’s age growing up in Montana, we’d pick the large celery-like stalks right from the weeds and eat it on the spot. It was a special, albeit tart, treat finally beckoning summer. Being one of the first plants to show up in the garden, it was a welcome sight to many a gardener after a long, cold winter.
Botanically a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a “fruit” in cooking. Highly acidic, thus its purse-puckering tartness, rhubarb is usually combined with a good amount of sugar to make delicious sauces, jams, and desserts. Also known as the “pie plant,” it’s a highly prized ingredient in fruit pies. Abundantly available through the summer and a snap to grow in your own garden, choose crisp stalks that are brightly hued. Highly perishable, the stalks should be refrigerated and used within a few days. Rarely will you purchase the stalks with the broad leaves still attached, as the leaves are toxic. If you’re procuring the field-grown variety or harvesting your garden, be sure to cut away the leaf and use only the stalk.
Enjoying the teachable moment with Jack, I informed him that rhubarb was not only a terrific ingredient in desserts, it is a miracle substance for shiny pots and pans and makes a great hair dye for redheads. Not into cleaning and certainly not wanting to be anymore of a carrottop than he is, Jack was losing interest. But baseball? Now that’s something Jack can relate to. Used to describe a heated argument, when the dirt is getting kicked up on the mound between the pitcher and the umpire, that’s a rhubarb. Go Giants. s
Jack’s Grandma Bev was synonymous with this recipe.
One of the first of many my mom taught me.
½ cup vegetable shortening, plus more for baking dish
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with shortening and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup shortening, egg, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and 1 ½ cups sugar and mix together well. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix well. Fold in the rhubarb and spread the batter in the baking dish.
In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and ½ cup sugar and sprinkle the topping over the batter. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!
From the 2012 summer issue of SONOMA