If you happened to be listening to Red Barber’s radio commentary one night back in 1943, you’d know that the term “rhubarb” is baseball slang for a heated argument on the ball field. It seems that Barber, the announcer for what were then the Brooklyn Dodgers, learned of the term from two sports reporters who had been speaking with a Brooklyn bartender. The bartender had described a barroom argument over baseball where a Brooklyn fan shot a Giants fan as a “rhubarb.” From the baseball field to the farmer’s field, rhubarb is one of Mother Nature’s first gifts of the growing season. You can also grow rhubarb in your garden, but it takes a few years to become established before you can pick it.
Rhubarb, also known as the pie plant, is one of my inherited, innate food cravings come springtime. Since childhood, I have looked forward to enjoying rhubarb, which exudes sweet-tart goodness when baked into a special treat. But, it is not a vegetable to be eaten raw.
Botanically classified as a vegetable (just like the tomato), rhubarb is a perennial that is used as a fruit to make an assortment of pies, cakes, breads and muffin, as well as puddings, relishes, jams, jellies and ice creams. Rhubarb can be baked or stewed or combined with its compatible companion, the strawberry. Fermented with sugar, rhubarb can also be made into wine.
Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin A and K, potassium and some vitamin C, as well as valuable mineral elements. Since many vitamins are contained in its skin, rhubarb should never be peeled. The rhubarb’s enormous green leaves contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous, and, if eaten in large amounts, could be fatal.
Shop for fresh rhubarb stalks that are sturdy and firm, and keep them refrigerated. Rhubarb also freezes well. Just wash the stalks, cut them in one-inch pieces, and bag freeze them for later use.
Unlike the boring, new rules for instant replay in baseball, here are a few rhubarb recipes you will want to replay again and again.
4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Crust and Topping:
1½ cups flour
1½ cups oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup butter, melted
1½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ cup chopped nuts
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
- Wash and cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a bowl, mix together the crust and topping ingredients until crumbly.
- Press two-thirds of this mixture into a 9x9-inch pan.
- Evenly arrange the cut rhubarb over the oatmeal-flour crust. Set aside.
- In a medium pot, combine sugar, cornstarch, water and vanilla.
- Bring mixture to a boil and cook until it becomes clear. Pour evenly over rhubarb.
- Top with remaining oatmeal-flour crust-topping.
- Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
- Allow to cool slightly or refrigerate. Good either warm or cold.
- Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.
STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB CRUMB PIE
1 pie crust (9-inch) - sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. fine bread crumbs
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. fine bread crumbs
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 tsp. lemon juice
- Combine sugar, flour, bread crumbs, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir to mix well.
- Add rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice. Toss in flour mixture to coat.
1/3 cup butter
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. vanilla
Sugar – Sprinkle over crumbs
- Use a food processor, a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour mixture to form small crumbs. Or use your hands.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Evenly distribute the rhubarb-strawberry-flour filling into the bread crumb-sprinkled pie crust.
- Cover the filling evenly with the crumb topping.
- Sprinkle the crumbs with sugar.
- Place aluminum foil under the pie. (Rhubarb becomes juicy and can bubble up.)
- Bake 15 minutes at 450 degrees.
- Turn down oven to 350 degrees. Continue to bake for 30-35 minutes until juices thicken and are bubbly.
Eat well, live long, enjoy!
(Questions or tips can be sent to Donna Zitter Bordelon at WhatscookinNEPhilly@gmail.com or in care of the Northeast Times, 2512 Metropolitan Drive, Trevose, PA 19053)