Rhubarb…that rosy pink, mouth-puckering tartness, the first spring fruit in the northwest and the one that most people know and either revere or cringe hearing the word. I’m one of the rhubarb lovers, and I begin drooling with anticipation in early March, waiting usually until April when the stalks on my gigantic plant turn crimson red. This year our rhubarb didn’t ripen until early May when I was gone, so I had lots of time to anticipate marmalade, jam, tarts, crumbles, crisps, pies and wait a minute, how about savory sauces and chutneys?
In 1986 local wine expert and taste aficionado Paul Thomas produced award winning, dry rhubarb wine. Following his remarkable taste buds Paul recognized that rhubarb’s unique flavor resulted from its layers of tartness and brix (sugar level) that when delicately fermented turned into dry, delicious wine. The key was protecting rhubarb’s fragile sweetness while highlighting its tartness.
So while I was in California in May I bought rhubarb several times in California farmers markets. Guess what? Completely different tasting from our Northwest rhubarb, California’s is sour, not tart, and not fruity tasting. When I added sugar it was sweeter, but it still tasted bland and dull. Poor California.
By the time we returned to our farm, my rhubarb yen had become a mild obsession, and I went directly to the garden with a big knife. There they were, twenty plus dark red, perfectly ripe stalks surrounded by 3’ tall flowering ones. A few whacks later I had harvested enough ripe rhubarb for tarts*, several bags for friends and enough extra to play with savory sauces.
A dinner of fresh salmon, asparagus, new lettuce and rhubarb tart…the very best of our Northwest bounty, and I was ready to get serious about those savory sauces.
Watch for the next two posts for the results!
*Rhubarb tart is simple.
Line small tart pans with piecrust and bake until done. In a mixing bowl combine chopped rhubarb, granulated sugar (always more than you think you need), 2 tsp. Minute Tapioca and a few chopped frozen strawberries. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave it or simmer it on the stove until the fruit is cooked and the mixture is thick. Set aside to cool.
When the pastry shells are done and cooled, spoon the rhubarb mixture into the shells. Dust with powdered sugar or serve with ice cream (good place for Chevre Ice Cream or crème fraiche.