I love rhubarb. Do I love the taste with a capital T? Not especially. I just love everything about the plant. The beautiful ruffled leaves, the scarlet stalks, the iron clad perennial-ness of it. The fact that almost every yard older than, oh, 20 years in Minnesota has a familiar clump tucked away in the back trenches, near the L.P. tank and the abandoned cars.
You know, rhubarb has gotten chic Hollywood mention lately. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Miranda Priestley requests tarts filled with “warm, rhubarb compote.” Well, she sort of demands it.
My mom demands it too. So, last Sunday (Mother’s Day) I made what I believe is the queen of all rhubarb desserts, entitled, drum roll…Rhubarb Dessert. It’s simple, creamy, adjustable to personal sweetness levels, and a crowd pleaser. It goes as follows:
RUFFLED RHUBARB DESSERT
4 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sugar, more or less to taste, but at least 1 cup
1 Lemon cake mix (the variety with pudding in it is delish)
1 pint whipping cream
Combine rhubarb and sugar and let set overnight, if possible or at least a couple of hours. It will create a lovely simple, rhubarb syrup at the bottom of the bowl. Taste it. It’s a novel treat.
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare cake mix per package directions, but don’t add any of the water that is called for. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan, pour rhubarb concoction over the batter and finally, pur whipping cream over the rhubarb. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let set for a couple of hours before serving as a cake-like dessert or immediately with ice cream or whipped topping for a creamy compote Miranda Priestly would be proud of.
As far as growing rhubarb, you really can’t go wrong. Pick-up a division from a gardening friend or a plant sale or buy a potted rhubarb plant at the nursery, garden center or hoophouse. Backyard reports tell us that the new varieties such as ‘Chipman’s Canada Red’ although pleasingly ornamental, are lesser producers. This may just be perfect for those northern gardeners who love the lore and kitsch of rhubarb, but not so much the culinary traits.
Get thee some rhubarb.