A week or so ago I was in the commissary and noticed that rhubarb was back in season. I was pretty excited, because I used to love my mom’s rhubarb pudding when I was a kid, and strawberry rhubarb pie was pretty good too. Just because I’ve never cooked rhubarb was no reason not to try it, so I picked up a bag of it. When I perused all my cookbooks. I only found a few recipes for rhubarb mentioned out of all of my cookbooks. I guess it’s not a popular ingredient.
I learned while looking for recipes that rhubarb really can’t be considered a fruit, because it’s actually the stem of a plant. And also that the leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous. Who knew? But none of that information was helping me cook my stems, so I kept looking.
I finally found a recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook my mother gave m. These are the recipes I grew up on, typically deliciously full of dairy, gluten, fat, and carbs–real farm food. I don’t cook much from the cookbook because of those reasons. But one of the several rhubarb recipes in the cookbook caught my eye, and I decided to give it a try.
Rhubarb Pudding (I) (from Mennnonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter, p. 324 in my edition)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter or margarine
- 4 cups diced rhubarb
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
“Sift flour; measure and add salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Sift again. Cut in shortening as for pastry. Mixture will be crumbly. Place half of crumb mixture in the bottom of a greased 8″ cake pan. Press down rather firmly.
Combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Spread over top of crumb mixture. Add remaining crumbs and press down with a spoon. Bake at 375F for 40-45 minutes. Serve warm with rich milk or cream.
Makes 6 servings.”
Maybe if the rhubarb had been fresher, the skin would not have started peeling away and sticking to things (and turning them red), as I diced. Maybe I would not have needed to peel away so many strings. Rhubarb is very similar to celery, aside from the color, and apparently the fresher rhubarb is, the less stringy. I learned that from my cookbooks too. I guess I had waited too long to prepare it, and had old rhubarb. However, I wasn’t going to let it go to waste, so I persevered with the stems, and finally had all four cups of rhubarb diced and ready.
The pudding part was easy. I had a gluten free flour blend on hand, not Bob’s Red Mill, like I normally prefer, but Hodgson Mill, which my mother had given me. I also had a dairy free spread, by Earth Balance, in stick form, so I was able to combine those ingredients easily with the sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Cutting the spread into the dry ingredients was the most time consuming part, but not difficult.
In general the dish was easy. Cutting the spread into the flour and cutting up the rhubarb were the time consuming parts. Once those steps were finished, I assembled the ingredients in the pan and baked. Putting it together, I most definitely could not see why it would be called a pudding. I can only assume pudding had a slightly different meaning when this recipe first started being handed down. This is a lot more like a crumble or cobbler.
The pudding-that-was-not-a-pudding was actually pretty good. If I make this again, I’ll be sure to dice the rhubarb into slightly smaller pieces than I did this time, as there were definitely pockets of sweet and pockets of sour throughout the dessert. I wasn’t blown away by the flavor, but it was good. I did an initial taste test after I got it out of the oven and let it cool down a little. Then I kept taking more little bites, until Brian accused me of eating it all myself. Oops! I guess it was tastier than I thought at first. I do think the dish would taste a lot better with regular flour and real butter, and perhaps some more spices. I forgot how simply flavored most Pennsylvania Dutch cooking is. Brian mentioned the lack of spices, but still ate his plain; I drizzled some coconut milk over mine. While it wasn’t exciting, it was good, and nice to have a real dessert, one I could feel safe eating. I’ll have to keep this recipe in mind for rhubarb season each year.