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Rhubarb, the Beauty and the Beast

May 16, 2008

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” 
J.R.R. Tolkien

A very positive part of this cold spring in the Northwest has been the longer season of rhubarb. They love cold weather. Rhubarb is a bit of a venomous beast with beautiful delicious stalks. It is a rather dinosaur looking plant and even though the stalks are fine to eat, the leaves are extremely poisonous. My sister-in-law had 3 of her sheep die one year after getting into her rhubarb patch and eating the leaves! Consequently the leaves can make an effective organic insecticide for any of the leaf eating insects. Go figure. Rhubarb is loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients and Vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting. It also posses a high amount of fiber, calcium and Vitamin C. One side note, rhubarb should be avoided if you have a tendency toward kidney stones.

Rhubarb has a pretty interesting history. Its roots are in China, most likely the colder regions of Mongolia or Siberia. It has been used in China for thousands for years as a medicinal plant in it’s dried from. In fact, for a few hundred years, dried rhubarb was more precious than cinnamon and opium! Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing it to North America in 1772, though it didn’t catch on till in the 1800’s as the “pie plant.”

This first recipe is one of my personal favorite rhubarb recipes. Maybe it is because I just love a coffee cake and a coffee cake with rhubarb can not be missed!

Rhubarb Walnut Cake
3 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb
2 tablespoons ww pastry flour
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of good cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
 Cooking spray
1/4 cup turbinado sugar, or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon good cinnamon
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

To prepare cake, combine rhubarb and 2 tablespoons flour in a medium bowl; toss well to coat. Set that aside then place brown sugar and 5 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating with vigor after each addition. Add sour cream, rind, and vanilla; mix it up till everything is well blended.

Meanwhile, combine flours, baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Fold in rhubarb mixture. Spread batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Prepare the streusel by combining the turbinado sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry blender or your fingers, (my personal fav) until mixture is crumbly; stir in nuts. Sprinkle streusel evenly over batter. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Nutritional guidelines; If you cut the cake into 12 pieces per piece, Calories 326, Fat 8.9, Fiber 2.8

This next recipe is an old one that my Grandma Baker gave me. For many of you, the taste will flood your memory with childhood springs. I enjoy this recipe because it has no fat or the usual super high sugar content that runs hand in hand with rhubarb. This sauce has so many wonderful uses. Try it on pancakes, toast, yogurt, in crepes, and of course, low fat ice cream.

Rhubarb Sauce
3 cups chopped rhubarb, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice or water
1 tsp of grated orange peel

Combine all ingredients in largish saucepan. Cook over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently until rhubarb is soft and sauce is thick and fragrant.

This last recipe is a wonderful combination of rhubarb and ginger. It is easy to make and has a beautiful presentation to get ohs and awes at the dinner table.

Rhubarb Gingersnap Parfaits
Rhubarb sauce as needed
About 2 cups of low fat vanilla yogurt
about a dozen gingersnap cookies, low fat is possible, Mother Nature’s has some great ones, “Mi Del.”

Smash the gingersnaps into coarse crumblies. Choose some beautiful parfait glasses and layer the ingredients in them in an artful way. Enjoy the rhubarb while you can, the chilly spring is over as I write. (90 degrees today!)

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