Rhubarb wrap

Rhubarb wrap1

There were quite a number of food rules in my German childhood: don’t drink water after eating cherries, don’t reheat spinach nor fish dishes, don’t go for a swim after eating – and don’t eat rhubarb harvested after St. John the Baptist Day on June 24.

Over time I found out that most of these rules have no scientific foundation. I have happily reheated countless slices of spinach quiche and leftover salmon without ever getting sick and broke all the other rules too – except for the one about rhubarb.

What supposedly makes rhubarb so dangerous is the oxalic acid, which is highly concentrated in rhubarb leaves and roots and makes them toxic. The stalks contain only insignificant amounts of oxalic acid, red stalks less than green ones. To harm your body you would have to eat a lot of rhubarb, and I imagine that even before having rhubarb-related health issues, you would get a sugar shock from all the sugar that is needed to make so much rhubarb palatable!

The reasoning behind that tenacious rhubarb deadline of June 24 is that supposedly rhubarb contains an elevated level of oxalic acid as the season progresses. The real reason, however, is that after the end of June the plant goes into regeneration and regrowth for next spring. Harvesting rhubarb later in the summer depletes it of its energy.

My two rhubarb plants had a slow start this year, I was able to cut very little, and only in the past two weeks do they seem to grow. There is no way I will keep my hands off rhubarb after tomorrow, and I will cut some more during the next week or two. And then, when I stop harvesting, I will do it because it’s bad for the plant (besides, in the summer heat, the stalks become fibrous), and not because of some old wife’s tale.

Orangey Baked Rhubarb

Adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe for Baked Rhubarb Compote in Chez Panisse Fruit, this is one of the most flavorful rhubarb compotes I ever made. Cooking rhubarb in the oven concentrates the juices to thick syrup, while the pieces don’t fall apart yet they are so soft they melt in your mouth. And the combination of rhubarb and orange is fantastic.

Rhubarb should not be cooked in metal dishes, which reacts with the oxalic acid (here’s another rule, yet this is one based on facts). Neither should the dish be covered with aluminum foil. I used parchment paper and butcher twine.

Rhubarb wrap2

2¼ pounds trimmed rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks

½ teaspoon natural orange extract

1¼ cups sugar

½ cup orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Mix the rhubarb with all the other ingredients. Evenly distribute it in the baking dish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and secure it across the top with butcher twine.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, then uncover and cook for 10 more minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a jar or a container with a lid and refrigerate.

Makes 4 cups

Long shortcut

I had wanted to make the Deep-Dish Rhubarb Pie from Sarah Leah Chase’s Open-House Cookbook for a long time. Yesterday I finally did it – it took several years for my two rhubarb plants to be strong enough to harvest at once the amount of rhubarb the recipe requires.

Chase’s cookbook is from 1987 and yet another proof that good cookbooks do not need stylish food photography, in fact, there is not a single photo except for the author’s, with an unmistakably 1980’s sweater and hairdo. The book came to me through my husband’s trousseau (he doesn’t cook).  It was one of the cookbooks his mother must have given to all of her children because I have spotted it on the cookbook shelves of my husband’s siblings.

This rhubarb pie is an adaptation of the recipe.

For the lattice crust, I decided to take a shortcut. Or so I thought, because I am not really good at making lattice crust, and I wanted to avoid lengthy fiddling with strips of dough while there is so much weeding, planting and pruning to do right now. Instead I cut out small cookies and placed them on top. This might have taken just as long as producing a lattice! At least I could be sure of a decent result.

Rhubarb can make a runny pie so depending on the freshness and thus moisture content of your rhubarb, you need to increase the amount of cornstarch in the filling. My pie was a bit on the runny side but I thought the filling is yummy as is, so I wouldn’t want to cut back on the amount of cassis, and rather adjust the amount of thickener next time.

Rhubarb Pie with Cassis


2¼ pounds diced rhubarb (about 8 cups)

¾ cup Crème de cassis (black currant liqueur)

Grated zest of 2 organic oranges

A little less than 1½ cups (10 ounces) sugar

¼ cup (1 ounce) cornstarch, more as needed


2½ cups flour

6 tablespoons cold butter

1/3 cup (2¼ ounces) shortening

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

Pinch of salt

About 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed

1. The night before mix the rhubarb with the cassis and the orange zest in a non-corrosive container. Cover and refrigerate.

2. Cut the butter in chunks and put it in the food processor with the shortening, sugar, ginger and salt. Process until the mixture is crumbly and pebbly, then gradually add tablespoons of ice water and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Place the ball in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

3. Drain rhubarb and pour the liquid in a saucepan. Set the rhubarb aside. Whisk the sugar and the cornstarch into the liquid and slowing bring to a bowl, whisking constantly. Cook until it turns clear and thickens. Add more cornstarch, a tablespoon at a time, until you get a very thick consistency. Cook to turn clear after each addition, and only then add more cornstarch.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

5. Roll out half of the dough to a 12-inch circle to fit a 10-inch cake pan. Lightly spray the pan with baking spray and fit the dough into the pan, trimming the edges.

6. Mix the rhubarb with the thickened liquid and pour it into the pan.

7. Roll out the remaining dough and cut out small cookies of your fancy. Place them closely together on top the filling.

8. Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool completely before cutting.

Makes 12 servings