One warm spring day, when I was somewhere between 5 and 10 years old, my mother took me to a farm and pointed at a leafy, wild looking plant.
“That’s rhubarb,” she said. “The stuff I make pies with.”
I tried to climb the embankment to get a closer look at the lipstick red stalks beneath the giant green leaves.
“Don’t eat any,” she called after me. “Rhubarb has to be cooked first. The leaves can be toxic.”
I was stunned. How could a plant be toxic and so incredibly tasty? A lifelong fascination with the rhubarb conundrum was born that day. Turns out, I’m not the only one obsessed with this red, tart vegetable. Hailed as one of the first signs of spring, rhubarb stalks peek out after long winters to brighten up dinner tables all over Europe, Asia and where I grew up – New England. They look remarkably like blushing celery stalks.
Rhubarb originates in China where it can be found floating in savory soups and stews. In Europe and North America, rhubarb is typically used in sweet applications, such as my mother’s strawberry rhubarb pie. Since rhubarb is incredibly tart, fresh strawberries help sweeten the desserts.
When I cooked the meal for my Estonian Global Table, I was thrilled to see that the Estonian food culture adores rhubarb. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Estonia is a typically cold country, where the bright flavor of rhubarb would be welcome after a long, drab winter. Estonians typically add cream to their rhubarb desserts, which apparently aids digestion.
Estonian Rhubarb & Strawberry Cream Tart
May is the perfect time to make this gorgeous tart. We’re in the heart of rhubarb season, which wraps up as summer heat sets in. For many U-pick farms, May is also the height of strawberry picking. Check www.pickyourown.org/OK.htm to find a farm near you.
Big on flavor and impact, this tart is perfect for garden parties. Once cooled, a casual dusting of confectioner’s sugar gives this tart rustic appeal. People should have more garden parties, don’t you think?
For the dough:
2 c. flour
1 stick salted butter
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 c. brown sugar
4-6 tbsp. water
For the filling:
1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
2 c. rhubarb, cut into one-inch pieces
2 c. strawberries, quartered
1 c. heavy cream
2 egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, pulse together the flour, butter, baking powder and sugar in a food processor. Drizzle water into the mixture until it comes together and can be formed into a ball of dough. Next, press the dough into a 10-inch spring form pan. I like the edge to be a little uneven – it looks rustic and charming once it is baked.
For the filling, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon in a small bowl. In a measuring cup, whisk the cream together with the egg yolks.
Add chopped strawberries and rhubarb to a large bowl. Toss with flour mixture until it looks frostbitten. Add the strawberries to the tart and pour the cream/egg yolk mixture over the top. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the berries are softened and the cream is set.
Enjoy warm or chilled, with tons of love and your favorite person in the whole wide world.
This tart is as good at room temperature as it is cold, although cold is probably more traditional. I’m only saying, in case you can’t stand to wait until it cools down all the way to dive into the sweet tart goodness. In which case you are probably required to eat it with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at globaltableadventure.com.
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic pairing, often eaten in combination in a pie or tart. However, rhubarb is also delicious when prepared in a variety of other ways.
For a tasty rhubarb jam, combine two and a half pounds of fresh chopped rhubarb, two cups of sugar, two teaspoons of grated orange zest, one-third cup of orange juice and a half-cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes. Allow the jam to cool; it will thicken as this happens. Ladle into hot sterile jars and seal with lids and rings, and store in the refrigerator.
Making easy rhubarb dumplings is a cinch. Flatten individual refrigerated biscuits into a three-inch circle. Place a generous tablespoon of chopped rhubarb into the center of each circle, then wrap the dough around the rhubarb, making a purse. Place the dumplings, seam side down, into a nine-by-13-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine one cup of sugar, one cup of water, a half-cup of melted butter and one and one-fourth teaspoons of vanilla extract. Pour the mixture over the dumplings, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown.