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First Fruit of the Season: Baking with Rhubarb

April 13, 2012


With large broad leaves and distinctive red stalks, rhubarb is easy to spot in the early spring garden.

As I plant the kitchen garden it is hard to miss bounty that the garden is already providing. The rhubarb plants have blossomed and I had a request for some ideas of things to do with rhubarb. If you have a problem with an over abundance of rhubarb (which isn’t a problem in my opinion) I have pulled a couple of recipes for you.  Don’t forget to cut the leaves off and use only the stalk of the rhubarb.

Rhubarb Pie 

Wash rhubarb, cut in half-inch pieces, put in deep pie plate having narrow strip of (puff) paste around the edge, sprinkle with sugar mixed with flour, allowing 1/2 cupful of sugar and 2 tablespoons flour to every cupful of rhubarb. Cover with (puff) paste, and bake like apple pie. All juicy fruit pies should be made in the same way.

Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook, 1903, pg. 213

(note: puff paste and pie crust are used somewhat interchangeably as the base pastry for a pie.  Use whatever works best for you!)

Of course there are other recipes for rhubarb pie. I included the one from Three Meals a Day when I wrote about how to make a pie crust. The White House Cookbook recipe is similar though it calls for a little salt and nutmeg as well. It also includes a recipe for making pie with cooked rhubarb, though it notes that the pie is superior when made with raw rhubarb, not stewed.

Rhubarb Pie, Cooked

Skin the stalks, cut them into small pieces, wash, and put them in a stew-pan with no more water than what adheres to them; when cooked, mash them fine, and put in a small piece of butter; when cool, sweeten to taste; if liked add a little lemon-peel, cinnamon or nutmeg; line your plate with thin crust, put in the filling, cover with crust, and bake in a quick oven; sift sugar over it when served.

White House Cookbook, 1887, pg. 296-297

I think this one sounds pretty delicious as well. With a lot of rhubarb it could be stewed and canned for use in future pies. Of course in 2012, chopping it up and tossing it in the freezer works well.

Pie is a favorite way to prepare rhubarb, but it isn’t the only way. I haven’t come across any recipes for the standard strawberry-rhubarb pie or rhubarb crisps that we think about today, but Fannie Farmer has a recipe for a rhubarb sauce that could be served over a nice pound cake (I included that recipe, too!).

Rhubarb Sauce

Peel and cut rhubarb in one-inch pieces. Put in a saucepan, sprinkle generously with sugar, and add enough water to prevent rhubarb from burning.  Rhubarb contains such a large percentage of water that but little additional water is needed. Cook until soft. If rhubarb is covered with boiling water, allowed to stand five minutes, then drained and cooked, less sugar will be required. Rhubarb is sometimes baked in an earthen pudding-dish.  If baked slowly for a long time it has a rich red color.

Boston Cooking School Cookbook, 1896, pg. 476

Common Cup Cake

2 cups sugar

1 cup sweet milk (not soured)

4 cups flour

1 cup butter

4 eggs

2 teaspoonfuls baking powder

flavor with lemon or vanilla

The Western Farmer’s Institute, Vol. 1 No. 3, May 1894

(note: like many of the other recipes of the time period with this recipe you just have to figure out what to do! I would recommend creaming the butter and sugar together and add the eggs, flavoring, and milk to that mixture. That would leave the flour and leavening to be combined and added to the other ingredients.  It can be cooked in a rectangular dish, layer dishes, or cup cakes as the name suggests.)

The Cup Cake recipe doesn’t refer to the cupcakes that we think about today but a cake that was baked with cups of things (like 1 cup of butter and 4 cups of flour).  Gem pans were around in 1900 for baking cupcakes, though lacking a cupcake pan, the smaller cakes can be cooked in any teacup.  If you are ever visiting the 1850 farm here at Living History Farms ask about making cupcakes in the dutch ovens!

Hope this gives you a few ideas of things to do with the rhubarb popping up out of the ground.

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1900 Farm   How Does Your Garden Grow?   In the Kitchen   Recipes

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