Rhubarb pie — not to be confused with strawberry-rhubarb pie — is probably my husband’s favorite dessert. This isn’t to say he won’t eat every bit of a strawberry-rhubarb, or even a Blueberry-Rhubarb Crisp (see below), but just that plain rhubarb pie is it. There are years when due to a move or gardening delays, there is no rhubarb in our garden or yard. I’m then reduced to begging from friends, who immediately know why I’m calling come spring. I also haunt the local grocery produce section where rhubarb does indeed appear but also disappears mysteriously…and not always when you need it. “Oh, sorry! It’s all gone. You know we get produce in every single night. Try again in the morning!” Rats.
Rhubarb was a mainstay of most of the yards in the neighborhood where I grew up. There was plenty every year–maybe more than anyone needed–because it grows with little care or help.
But today, if you’re just beginning to garden, rhubarb takes a good three years to get established. The first year, you simply water it and let it grow, watching it wistfully, dreaming about pie. The second, a few stalks can be harvested, which isn’t much. The third, you’re good; make rhubarb pie almost to your heart’s content. You must, however, forever be judicious in your picking because while the plant continues to grow spring – fall, if you keep taking too much off, the rhubarb will die and you’ll be starting over from ground zero, literally.
TIP: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Discard carefully or compost.
I’m at the two-year mark. Our rhubarb is well-caged from the rascals whose breakfast, lunch, and dinner often seems to come from the Morgan garden. One plant, still eaten down to the nub by the deer last year, is producing almost nothing and must be left alone. The second has gifted quite a bounty of stalks and has even gone to a beautiful seed. (I need to cut the flowering stalks down today.) I was able to pull several stalks for a dessert, being careful to leave most of it to continue growing for another 12 months. The haul was not enough for pie…and the store, as I said, had zip. What was a baker to do? Why not make a shortcake and make it strawberry-rhubarb? Strawberries, while not available locally yet, are in good supply in the Fed Ex fruit system; they’re even on sale because it’s supposed to strawberry time, you see. We just happen to live where little grows!
While we think of shortcake nearly always as Strawberry Shortcake, you can make a shortcake dessert out of nearly any fruit. Late summer juicy peaches are perfect, but apples work, too. One of the fun things about shortcake is you can bake the cakes ahead in the morning (or even the day before if you’re in a pinch) and all you need to is slice or chop fruit, whip cream, and assemble it. If you’re not a biscuit baker –for shortcakes are just dressed up biscuits –no worries. Simply buy a pound cake at the bakery or even a frozen Sara Lee pound cake at the grocery and slice it thinly to use in place of the sliced shortcakes. In fact, some stores sell baked biscuits if that’s your thing.
TIP: If your shortcakes have become a tad stale, slice them as directed, but butter them before you spread on the jam. If you’re eating the leftover cakes as is, slide the buttered cakes under the broiler for a few seconds to warm them through and then add jam or peanut butter or honey.
Have your own biscuit recipe you’d like to use? Of course you can use it and it will work perfectly well (you might brush tops of baked biscuits with butter and then sprinkle them with sugar), but it you’d like to convert it to a shortcake recipe, it’s fairly simple. Add a little more sugar to the dry ingredients (say another tablespoon if you’re already using two tablespoons for your biscuits) and replace part of the milk with a beaten egg. A large egg, beaten, is 1/4 cup of liquid. That will give you a more cakey product -what we call shortcake — instead of a flakey biscuit.
However you decide to do it, I hope you’ll welcome spring with a Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortcake for the rhubarb lovers you know. Try this:
- 8 freshly baked and cooled shortcakes, each sliced in half horizontally (recipe in post or purchase*)
- 1/2 cup best quality seedless raspberry jam, room temperature
- 1 quart ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced (reserve a few for garnish)
- Granulated sugar
- 1 quart stewed rhubarb–recipe included in post
- 1 cup whipping cream whipped with 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of sugar
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream
To assemble…for each shortcake in a deep individual serving bowl or plate:
- Spread the two halves of the shortcake gently with a little raspberry jam, using about half a tablespoon for each half. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mash about 1/4 of the strawberries with a tablespoon of sugar and mix the rest of the berries into the sugared ones. Make sure to keep a few aside for garnish. Gently stir in the cooked rhubarb until combined.
- Place one half of a shortcake (jammed side up in the bottom of bowl or plate and top with strawberry-rhubarb mixture.
- Dollop in a little whipped cream on top of the berries and place the second half jammed shortcake on top. Top with another spoonful of whipped cream and garnish with a strawberry slice or two. Add a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side of the cake. (Repeat with remaining shortcakes and fruit.)
- Serve with hot coffee or iced tea.
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 8 tablespoons cold butter 1/2 cup or 1 stick
- 1 egg well-beaten
- 1/3 cup milk or cream plus droplets if needed
- Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, and sugar in a mixing bowl, and stir ad toss them together with a fork or wire whisk.
- Cut the butter into bits and add it to the dry ingredients. Then, using two knives, a pasty blender, your fingertips, or a food processor, cut or work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a mixture of fine, irregular crumbs that resemble fresh bread crumbs.
- Add the beaten egg and the milk all at once, and stir with a fork or pulse if using the food processor until the mixture just holds together. Turn out (it will probably be stickonto a smooth, well-floured surface, and knead 12-14 times. Pat out into a rectangle 1/2″ thick. Cut the dough into squares or rectangles, using a knife, or into rounds with a floured 2½” biscuit cutter.
- Place the biscuits touching each other in the cake pans or on the baking sheet. (For crispier biscuits, leave some space between them on the pan or sheet.) Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Remove from oven and place biscuits on a rack to cool.
To stew rhubarb: Heat 4 cups chopped rhubarb with 1/2 (plus more if needed) granulated sugar and water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, and cook until tender–maybe 15 minutes. Taste the rhubarb about half-way through the cooking process and add more sugar, if needed. Cool and strain. Can double or triple. (Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon for each 4 cups rhubarb.) You can also make rhubarb sauce. Just continue to cook until the rhubarb is mushy and mash with a potato masher.
I’ve finished South African British mystery writer Rennie Airth’s RIVER OF DARKNESS, the first in his series of well-written and totally captivating John Madden books. The second arrived, but I decided to take a break and reread Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard’s PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK from 1974. If you think you’re missing something in life or have become glazed over in someway, or have forgotten what true detailed description of the natural world looks like, go back and immerse yourself in Tinker Creek. You might go spend some time outside after that.
It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.”― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
This week marks my tenth anniversary here at More Time at the Table! I feel suitably proud of how far I’ve come in those ten years, and continue to love food blogging every single week. Of course the best thing has been becoming more connected with people — and that means you — through cooking. I truly believe our world can change by cooking at home, sharing meals, and spending more time at the table. More soon on all this, but in the meantime…