Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Romp with Rhubarb

My mom always raved about strawberry-rhubarb pies from her childhood. In Best Food Writing 2007, there's an excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's 2007 book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, that highlights rhubarb's savior-like qualities when no other seasonal fruit is available. And when I made rugelach this summer, I used some strawberry-rhubarb preserves in a few of them (heated and mashed a bit, of course).

Reading Kingsolver's book this summer piqued my rhubarb curiosity once again, and the Boston Globe Magazine serendipitously printed a recipe for Foolish Rhubarb Cardamom Parfaits. Naturally, I wanted to have my hand in preparing this,, plant...

What the heck is rhubarb? According to wikipedia, rhubarb is a vegetable, but we use only the stalk for cooking/baking. Good thing, because the leaves are toxic. I'd suggest checking out the wikipedia article (linked above) to see photos of the stuff before it's chopped up into packable pieces for the grocery store.

My adventure with rhubarb turned into a late-night cooking craze, as I decided to make the parfaits after finishing up a batch of Scottish scones (some made on the griddle, some in the oven). And unfortunately, I was actually the only person that even tried the parfait, or the rhubarb for that matter, because my parents both had stomach bugs at the time. So you'll either have to trust my judgment or make it yourself!

The rhubarb is a hard stalk, with skin about the same color as a red onion. Under the skin, it's a pale green. I have no experience with it, so I don't know if mine looked healthy, or if it was old as the hills - all I know is that it cooked up fine so I don't have any complaints. You have to peel off the skin by digging under it with a knife and peeling all the way down the stalk. It's very simple, and produces beautiful curls of purplish ribbon.

After peeling and chopping the rhubarb, I threw it in a saucepan with some sugar, orange juice/zest, cardamom, and vanilla. I didn't think there was enough liquid, so I added more juice. That ended up being a mistake: first of all, the rhubarb oozes liquid when it's cooked, so the extra juice was unnecessary; secondly, the sauce ended up too orangey.

Once cooked down and mashed up, I refrigerated the sauce overnight. I made whipped cream the next morning, and then assembled a giant parfait (if made with cream, parfaits should be tiny, I've learned). I must say that I liked the look and idea of the concoction better than the actual taste. I thought it was too sweet, so maybe with less sugar and less orange juice it would work better. But it was still fun, and paired well with the plain scones I had made. Not bad for a first attempt at rhubarb preparation.


  1. I love the look of it almost looks like candy!

  2. There's not really any need to peel your rhubarb. You just need to make sure that it's washed well. Your comments about the water is a very good one, you only need a very small amount of water to stop it burning to your pot. Try it with ginger, a fantastic soother when you have a sore throat/cold!- more water is a benefit here to make a juice out of the liquid.

  3. I have always loved rhubarb from the times my cousin and I used to "steal" a stalk from our neighbor's patch and eat it dipped in sugar. Now I have my own growing in my yard and this weekend I will make our favorite rhubarb crisp. Lots of sugar, but hey, it also uses oats so that makes it healthy, doesn't it?



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