I’m a fan of rhubarb. It grows like a weed in my back yard with exactly zero attention or intervention from me whatsoever (in fact, it grows so well and so quickly that, this year, I’ve discovered several stalks that were literally split because they grew so rapidly. I swear, if I went out into the yard and sat very still and quiet, I could probably hear the stuff growing). I also have an affinity for it because it reminds me of Gramma Charlene; my whole rhubarb patch is due entirely to her. One late spring afternoon, she was in HER rhubarb patch, cutting and pulling stalks for me. She yanked one a little too hard and it came up with some roots still attached. “Stick this in the ground,” she told me, with no pretense or artifice, “It’ll grow.”
And grow, it has. Gloriously, generously, and enthusiastically.
My customary application of rhubarb is in Sister Frances’s rhubarb pecan bread. I’ve also made a fantastic rhubarb compote (put a pound or so, diced, and a cup or so of sugar (and, if you have one, a vanilla bean, split and scraped) in a saucepan or your crock pot and simmer until it’s all soft and squishy. Mash it about with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. It’s particularly good as a topping for either ice cream or yogurt, but it also serves very nicely heated and spread on French toast). The bumper nature of the annual crop, though, means that I am always seeking out new recipes to use the stuff, and this one’s a winner. It’s a variation on Gramma’s fruit bread recipe, though I’ve modified things a bit.
To start, preheat your oven to 350°, butter a loaf pan, and line it with parchment (which you will also butter). I use two pieces to make it easier; one lengthwise and one across, which makes a nice sling if you want to lift the loaf out. I don’t, but we’ll talk about that later). Cut little logs of rhubarb to fit all along the bottom of your pan (or, alternately, you can just dump chunks in there. I like the look of the logs, but the flavor of the dish won’t be changed if you don’t want to get that fussy). Sprinkle 4 or 5 tablespoons of white sugar over the rhubarb and let it sit for a few hours, until it starts releasing its juice.
In the bowl of your Kitchenaid, beat a stick and 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter with a cup of sugar until it’s light and fluffy. To that, add three room temperature eggs, one at a time, until the whole is combined and airy. In a separate bowl, sift together a cup of flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, then stir that into the batter, alternating with 3/4 of a cup of either room temperature sour cream or yogurt (either works well in this application, though I most often have yogurt to hand). If you like, you can stir in a blop of vanilla extract just before you pour the batter over the rhubarb (I like, so I do).
Park the pan in the middle of your oven and bake for about 40 minutes or so (you may want to put a layer of foil or something under the pan; the few times I’ve made this, sugary rhubarb juice has leaked up the corners of the pan and dripped on the floor of the oven. This makes a fair bit of smoke and can be tough to clean up if you don’t have an oven liner). The toothpick test is effective here.
I let the cake cool for a bit on the pulled-out oven rack or on a trivet on the counter, then I’ll invert it on to a pretty plate while it’s still warm but no longer rocket hot. It really is best served as an “upside down” cake, because the rhubarb turns all kinds of pretty, springtime shades of pink and green, and some of the juice will leak down into the cake. You may, if you like, sprinkle a bit of sugar (white or confectioners) over the top, but I think that’s overkill; it’s delicious just as it is.