Rhubarb – the dessert vegetable

For those of you who don’t live in a place with seasons (shout out to my sister down in Tennessee), you might not be familiar with the food item called rhubarb. Even if you live in a place where it grows, you might no know what it is if you don’t grow it yourself, as it’s not something you can find in most grocery stores. While I love it and grew up on it, I’ll be the first to tell you it’s…strange, to say the least.

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is used like a fruit. It looks like celery, though it can range in color from pale green to ruby red. Raw, it tastes like the most sour thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. Remember those War Head candies that were all the rage 15-20 years ago? The makers probably didn’t intend it, but those things are a dead ringer for raw rhubarb. When cooked, it tastes like a sweet tart. It’s like a mix between a raspberry and a cherry, with a little tartness. Oh, and the leaves are poisonous. Don’t eat those.

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Madeline tried to eat a slice that fell on the floor, and instantly regretted it.

When I was a kid, we would go in the back yard with our pocket knives and a bowl of sugar. Dipping it in sugar cuts back on the sourness, and we ate it like candy (though it was still ridiculously sour – I’m not sure why kids are drawn to candy that makes their mouths hurt, but it was delicious).

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While it may look like it, if celery and rainbow chard had a baby it would’t taste anything like this.

So what do you do with it? It makes a delicious sauce for ice cream, complements strawberries perfectly in jam or pie, and makes some mighty good muffins. But my hands down all time favorite recipe is a family recipe that we, for some reason unknown to the culinary world, call “rhubarb meringue.” There might not be anything resembling meringue in this dessert, but it’s amazing and you need to try it ASAP.

Rhubarb Meringue

For the crust:
1 c flour
5 tbsp powdered sugar (a scant 1/3 cup)
1/2 c cold butter

For the filling:
3 eggs
2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 c chopped rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grab your 9 x 13 baking pan.

Dump the dry ingredients for your crust into a food processor. Cut your butter into chunks, and add them to the food processor. Pulse it all together a few times until the butter is broken down into pea-sized pieces. The whole thing should be a little crumbly. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a pastry blender, a couple of forks, or even your hands if you work quickly (we don’t want the butter to melt). Dump the mixture into your pan, and pat it flat with your hands.

Blind bake your crust for 15 minutes(ish). It doesn’t need to be golden brown, but it shouldn’t be white.

While the crust is baking, whisk together all the ingredients for your filling except the rhubarb. It should look almost like a thick pancake batter. Using a spatula, fold in your rhubarb. Make sure every piece gets coated by the batter.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s oh-so-good.

When your crust is out of the oven, pour the rhubarb mixture on top of the hot crust. Spread it out, checking for limes your child might have thrown in when you weren’t looking, and pop it back in the oven for 45 minutes.

While it’s in the oven, something magical will happen that I simply can’t explain. This weird mess of sugar, eggs, flour, and a sour vegetable will turn into a crispy, fluffy, sweet, tart, delicious dessert. Enjoy it. I recommend covering any leftovers with a towel rather than plastic or foil, as the top gets soggy (still good, but not AS good). And no, I have no idea how long it will keep for, because I can eat this whole pan myself in 2 days. It’s that good.

As you can see, I didn’t follow my own directions and missed the lime that Madeline threw in the bowl when my back was turned. And no, I don’t know how I missed it either.

2 Replies to “Rhubarb – the dessert vegetable”

  1. Casey! I sent this to Erich and he made it for me and its great! A custard maybe? I’m lying down with a migraine and Erich brought me a slice. Then I went back for 2 more very generous pieces. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! I have no idea how to categorize it. It’s too soft to be a bar, not thick enough to be a cake…maybe like a cakey custard with a crunchy top?

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