This time of year, when the rhubarb magically pushes its way up through the soil, I start to gather ingredients for rhubarb streusel cake. A kitchen garden is not complete without rhubarb, especially in Vermont where rhubarb was once a staple. Rhubarb thrives in our cool weather, and one plant yields enough for a family of four and lasts for decades. The brilliant rosy color of the stalks and the flamboyant nature of the giant leaves are more characteristic of warmer more tropical plants that might be found in the Caribbean, yet for this reason alone, planting rhubarb as an ornamental edible is worthy enough, and may take priority over a culinary experience. My grandmother taught me how to can rhubarb to serve over vanilla ice cream during winter months, but in truth - it doesn’t even come close to the flavor of rhubarb fresh out of the ground in the spring.
Kitchen Garden Tip #10: A single rhubarb plant is ample for a family of four. Plant the corm in loose, fertile soil where it will grow as a perennial. Similar to asparagus, allow the plant to establish itself before harvesting - which should only take a single season. A healthy rhubarb plant will produce a wide wing span of foliage, so give the plant enough space to expand, and remove the central seed stalk as the weather warms.
Recipe from my upcoming new book, The Complete Kitchen Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden - (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, Spring 2011)
Makes one 9' X 13' pan / 10 servings
Especially good as a morning treat or with afternoon tea, this recipe balances the sour nature of Rhubarb with a sweet crumb topping.
6 stalks rhubarb - leaves removed
1 1/4 cups milk
1-tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/4 cups unbleached all - purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4-cup plain yogurt
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350*F. Lightly butter and flour a 9 X 13 inch backing pan, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Chop the rhubarb into 1/2 inch slices. Measure out 3 cups.
3. Combine the milk and vinegar and let stand until the milk curdles, about 5 minutes.
4. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt to combine. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl of an electric blender until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, and the yogurt. Gradually add the flour and the milk, alternating each until both are incorporated. Fold in the rhubarb to blend.
5. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Mix together the topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake for 35- 45 minutes. Cool the pan on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.