Tart and wonderful rhubarb
Those tart, pink stalks that will soon be appearing in the backyard or grocery store seem to thrive in a chilly, damp climate. Which when you think about it, makes sense since they like to grow nearly everywhere in Maine.
Right now, the tiny pink “balls” that will eventually become tall, sturdystalks and large leaves, are just beginning to appear through the remaining April snow.
I like to research where foods originated, and this time, I found that rhubarb most like got its start in China where it was used as a serious medicine for such medical problems as constipation and inflammation for centuries. The Chinese exported it for just such a purpose for many, many years before someone decided to try cooking and eating it.
Rhubarb is low caloried, at least until lots of sugar is added, filled with calcium and is fat free. Some research shows that rhubarb can also speed up the metabolism.
Most likely, people stayed away from ingesting it because its leaves, like those of potatoes and tomatoes, are toxic. Some gardeners use the huge leaves as a weapon against insects that like to devour our tender growing vegetables by laying the leaves, once the stalks have been removed for culinary use, between and around rows of growing seedlings.
Whomever first cooked with this vegetable, as it is technically identified, but now is used more as a fruit, is not known. But according to some researchers, a recipe for baking with rhubarb first appeared in an 1806-07 cookbook. That recipe was for a rhubarb tart and called for a flaky pie crust, 4- or 5-inch stalks of the rhubarb and a thin sugar syrup.
Since then, cooks have concocted recipes for and made rhubarb pie, rhubarb sauce, rhubarb cake, rhubarb cobbler and with one of its favorite accompaniments, strawberries, a combination of both fruits in most traditional desserts. The sweetness of the strawberries and tartness of the rhubarb are unique and delicious, particularly when topped with vanilla ice cream.
Some have tried, and enjoyed combining cooked rhubarb with spinach for a double jolt of vitamins and other nutrients.
I have found that orange and rhubarb get along deliciously well, too. I’ve make jams and jellies with the two fruits to rave reviews. An orange/rhubarb tart recipe I’ve found recently is also delectable and very popular in my house.
Here’s that recipe.
Orange Glazed Rhubarb Tarts (6 3x6-inch tarts)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
one-half cup granulated sugar
three-quarters pound bright pink rhubarb stalks, cut diagonally into
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Stir together the orange and lime juice, and the sugar. Add the prepared rhubarb and let stand, stirring every so often, for 10 minutes. Roll pastry out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Cut 6, 3x6-inch rectangles using a sharp knife. Place each on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Create half-inch borders along all four sides of each piece of pastry. Prick each prepared pastry with a fork. Drain the rhubarb/orange juice mixture, saving the juice. Place rhubarb pieces evenly in each tart. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, then place on cooling rack.
Meanwhile, boil gently the reserved sugar/orange juice mixture in a small saucepan until about one-quarter cup remains, about 15 minutes. Spoon an equal amount of the glaze on each tart. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
A perfect sauce for topping white cake or ice cream can also be made using sugar, orange juice and cooked rhubarb. Simply combine small pieces of rhubarb, sugar to the sweetness desired, and orange juice in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the rhubarb is soft, stirring occasionally. Let cool or serve warm over the cake or ice cream.
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