One day I was bored so I made this drawing. It contains some thoughts on the flavour of rhubarb, with the intent of deepening our appreciation of the plant, and broadening its culinary application.
Rhubarb is almost always cooked with a sweetener to balance the sharp acidity of the plant. Brown sugar deserves special mention. Honey also works well, which has me wondering if Sauternes would pair well with a rhubarb dish.
Most forms of dairy, whether sweet or cultured, pair well with rhubarb. Rich dairy tempers the acidity of rhubarb. Ice cream is especially good at this. Salty dairy like aged cheddar can be a good counterpoint to rhubarb’s bright acidity.
Eggs work surprisingly well with rhubarb. Picture a … Continue reading.
The Tyranny of the Lemon
I like lemons. Tarte au citron and lemon meringue pie are two of my favourite desserts. A quick squeeze of lemon adds friendly punch to everything from salads to roasted chickens and pots of tea.
To me lemons are the epitome of our thoughtless dependence not just on imported ingredients, but imported cuisine. Every week of the year the happy yellow fruits are shipped by the ton into our city to spread the insidious influence of Mediterranean and Californian food.
What is frustrating about our lemon dependence is that our region and its local plants do “sour” very well. We are awash with tart, flavourful ingredients like apples, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, rhubarb, and … Continue reading.
When it comes to pies and crumbles, I’m usually a purist: I prefer to use only one type of fruit. Saskatoon pie and crumble, however, pose two problems. First, the berries are relatively low-moisture, with pronounced pips and skins. When you cook them down with sugar they don’t ooze moisture like most other fruits, so they don’t produce cohesive pastry fillings without the addition of water, which simply dilutes the flavour of the berries. Second, they are low-acid when ripe, and on their own don’t make well-balanced fillings.
Rhubarb solves both of these problems. When cooked down, most rhubarb varieties are fluid, and help make saskatoons into a cohesive pastry filling. Rhubarb is also crazy tart, balancing the sweetness of … Continue reading.
Some quick notes on a springtime specialty.
The most difficult part about using rhubarb as a pastry filling is that once it’s cooked it has almost no structure. Actually it’s entirely liquid. For this reason rhubarb is often mixed with other fruit like strawberries or apples. Right now I have lots of rhubarb, hardly any fruit in the freezer, and berries and apples are still months off. In other words I have to set my rhubarb filling with gelatin or cornstarch.
We like rhubarb because it is tart, but oftentimes it is too tart. To make sure the acidity isn’t overpowering, I make rhubarb pie in a shallow, French tart pan instead of a classic North American pie pan; this … Continue reading.
Possibly my favourite application for rhubarb. Almost any tart fruit can be used, but the sour flavour of rhubarb marries beautifully with the nutty character of the brown butter.
Every time I brown butter I ask myself why I don’t do it more often. It’s quick, more or less foolproof, and one of the great, complex flavours of the kitchen. Simply put butter in a heavy pot over medium high heat, then remove once the moisture has boiled off and the milk solids have browned. If you need more guidance, you can think of browning butter like making syrup: as more and more water evaporates, the boiling point of the liquid rises. Use a candy thermometer and pull the brown … Continue reading.
Oddly enough, I eat a lot of local fruit this time of year. Especially rhubarb. Every spring and summer we freeze a large quantity of chopped rhubarb stalks. The following April it suddenly occurs to me that in a few weeks there will be fresh rhubarb popping up in the backyard, and that I should probably use up last year’s harvest before that time comes.
Think of the following posts as either a way to clear the freezer of last year’s fruit, or as a way of looking forward to the new fruit on its way.
Sticklers will insist that this drink isn’t really shrub.
Shrub is an old-timey North American drink, traditionally a reduction of fruit … Continue reading.
Before I say anything else, please, please, please don’t eat rhubarb leaves. They’re considered poisonous.
That being said, I have a theory that I’m working out. I’m wondering if there is a way to prepare rhubarb leaves so that they aren’t poisonous.
I started thinking about this after reading about taro. Taro root is a tuber native to India, but common in the cuisines of the Caribbean, South America, Polynesia, and much of Asia.
Taro, both the tuber and the leaves, contain a large amount of calcium oxalate. When eaten raw they burn your mouth and throat, but boiling them dissolves the oxalates and renders them safe to eat.
Rhubarb leaves also contain a large amount of oxalate, and according … Continue reading.
I’ve had recipes for rhubarb relish passed to me from both my family and Lisa’s. Though one is from Ontario and the other from Alberta, they are uncannily similar: one part chopped rhubarb and one part chopped onion, stewed together with cinnamon, clove, and other “pumpkin pie” spices.
This has been my default rhubarb sauce to accompany meat and hearty bread for the past couple years, but I have to admit it’s not a show-stopper. I’ve been trying to elevate this recipe, and a friend of mine recently found the way. His discovery of rhubarb onion jam was one of those rare times when something in the kitchen goes horribly wrong, but the food turns out better than if all … Continue reading.