As American as baseball and rhubarb
Therese Nugent is a chef instructor and recipe writer living in Sonoma. Using a combination of expertise, personal experience, the love of food and fitness, and her gift of motivation, she has inspired hundreds and hundreds of people to enjoy everyday living. Approachable, engaging, and enthusiastic, Therese epitomizes the modern day Sonoma lifestyle and her mastery of food and fitness reflects the quality of living in Sonoma.She holds a B.A. degree in Interpersonal Communication, advanced certifications in fitness and nutrition, and is a certified culinary professional. A fitness consultant and trainer for over twenty years, she is a featured food writer and published author. Married to Mike, Therese stays particularly busy with their school-age son and twin daughters who enthusiastically partake in her culinary creations. For more from Therese see her website Sonomadish.com.)
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 it’s 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, 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, 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 the cleaning and certainly not wanting to be anymore of carrot top 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 ump, that’s a rhubarb.
My mom is synonymous with this recipe. One of the first of many she taught me.
Mom’s Rhubarb Cake - Serves 8
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, plus more for the baking dish, 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt , 3 cups fresh rhubarb, diced; 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon , 1/2 cup sugar.
1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with shortening and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup shortening, egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and 1 1/4 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.
3. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and 1/2 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.