Sunday, May 06, 2007

Rebel and Revel

The rhubarb has been quietly imploring me to pick it up for the past two weeks, but I haven’t been ready. I shrug my shoulders in mock indifference, but really I am still climbing out of winter. While it is true that we have left the vernal equinox shore a month plus out, in this northern most part of the country the weather has been strange and stodgy and I still prefer to keep my toes toasty, buffered from the imagined elements under a blanket of down. Outside the harbingers of warm weather have been steadily flaunting their arrival: the first red breasted robin is now heavily ensconced within throngs of song, brave tulip heads have surfaced, blossomed and beaming, and the night time peepers chirp their raucous tunes—it may be high time to finally let go of the braises, the gruels and stomach warming stews.

Slow to start and unused to the light I’ve veered towards muted tastes and tones. I’ve nibbled on baby lettuce, groped cauliflower and fumbled towards fennel all the while staying clear away from anything signaling assertion and verve. Unassuming they lay in oblong wicker baskets, strangers in a foreign land uneasy between the endive and the lemongrass: the striated strumpet, be wary- the alone and self possessed rhubarb.

Even the pronunciation of its very name suggests drama and a hint of irony. An ever-so-slight pucker, a full mouthed enthusiastic and canine, “Rooo!” followed by immediate slam and reprimand, a pinch and jab- “barb”. Stabs of scarlet color invade my vision, tear through my quieted world and demand to be reckoned with. One might think of gingham checkered dresses, blue ribbon pies and fields of golden sunflowers but think again, the tart vegetable “pie plant” with the monstrously huge poisonous leaves started out as both laxative and liver purge and originally hailed from Asia. The conversion from medicine to dessert, revulsion to revel has been relatively recent and probably hinged one small part upon our human need for instigation and a little contradiction.

Saliva inducing and sour, rhubarb reminds me of what it is like to be a kid and dip my tongue into unflavored strawberry Kool-aid. The allure is similar to the addictive sweet and sour draw of sour patch candies. This vegetable that poses as fruit whets our appetites and cleanses the palate for something new. And like all good things, is a little contrary. Firm stringy stalks are relatively substantial yet cook down into a saucy puddle. And its vibrant racy color whimpers down into a hush. Rhubarb is purgative all the while whispering sweet seduction in the language of pies, compotes, and crumbles.

Finally I’m ready to shake up and move out of my uncomfortable quarters, open and explore. This week I’m taking the lead from this saucy gal in honor of May Day, the first days of summer. May you rebel and revel in rhubarb and Roo the Day.

“I’ve-Seen-the-Light” Breakfast of Champions, serves 4: The concept started with the cooked stalks. I couldn’t decide what dessert to put it into and before long was staring at a rather runny sauce. The sauce demanded to be put upon a cloud of cream complete with lofty throne. I was thinking of clafoutis, cream puffs, popovers, waffles and then settled upon a puffy pancake á la Betty Crocker. The golden pedestal was easy and beautiful. In truth I have tasted better Dutch babies but was too delighted to really care.

Puffy Oven Pancake “Base”
2 Tblsp butter
2 large eggs
½ C all-purpose flour
½ C milk
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla

Rhubarb and Rose Compote
1 ½ C rhubarb diced
½ C sugar, might do a scant less next time
5 crushed cardamom pods
Rose water to taste

Vanilla Ice cream/ whipped cream

Directions: Throw the rhubarb, sugar, cardamom pods together into a medium container. Fill just enough water to cover the stalks a bit less than half and cook at a gentle rumble. When the sauce reaches your desired consistency, take off the heat and fish out the spent pods. I left a few cardamom seeds in. Stir in rose water to taste and reserve. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt butter in a pie plate, making sure to thoroughly coat the sides. Beat eggs slightly in a medium bowl and then incorporate remaining pancake ingredients until just mixed. Do not over beat! Bake approximately 30 minutes until puffy and golden brown. Serve immediately with a decadent amount of vanilla ice cream/whipped cream and just warmed rhubarb and rose compote over top.


Ellie said...

Ooooh, you combine two foods that I am yet to try in a dazzling display of taste! Dutch babies is just something I've been putting off for some unknown reason, but ever since I was regaled with stories of how my next door neighbour had gotten sick from rhubarb, I've been terrified of it ever since!

I'm slowly working up the courage to try day :D

Callipygia said...

Ellie- Start with the Dutch babies, so simply and pretty with strawberries and cream. Then work your way up to rhubarb, maybe your neighbor nibbled on the leaves?

sher said...

A Dutch baby! How wonderful! I must try this. As a kid, I sold rhubarb from a little red wagon, going from door to door. Is that precious or not? I was about 8 years old and made pennies. But, I thought I was quite the salesperson!

HipWriterMama said...

I don't like rhubarb, but you make it sound divine!

Callipygia said...

sher- now that is cute! I would have definitely bought them from you.

hipwritermama- have you ever had it in pie?

Gattina said...

In the first year I was here, my neighbor cut me a huge bunch of rhubarb, and we did a few dishes and baked goods with it... I just felt it was the introduction of Amercian food *lol* regardless many other parts of the world also use rhubarb. Now that Amercian-ish sentiment is back after I see Betty Crocker :D

Lis said...

I'm with mama on this one.. I can't do the stuff - even in pies. It's just never been my cup of tea, but hot damn if you don't make me want to try just one more time in a compote over pancakes! I love the addition of rose as well. =)


pom d'api said...

Good recipe !!! how its wonderful

Callipygia said...

gattina- Yes it does seem all american even tho other cultures definitely use it- I was surprised to see rhubarb combined with meats.

lis- hmmm maybe rhubarb and chocolate will entice you!

pom d'api- Thanks, it was a fun combination.

Freya and Paul said...

What a wonderful, fairy tale breakfast, rhubarb and rose!

miragee said...

I saw the veggie rhubarb and even yogurt of the rhubarb flavor abroad, but you are right, it just daunted me, though I couldn't give any reason.

I hope it's getting warmer in your part of the world:-). My bro lives in NYC, and often it's hard for me to imagine the cold there while living in the warm subtropical zone. Take care!

Lydia said...

When my parents moved us from New York City to suburban New Jersey (I was in 8th grade -- my first out-of-city experience), we had this awful leafy plant in the back yard. No matter how many times my dad mowed it down, it kept coming back! One day a neighbor finally told us it was a rhubarb plant, and from then on we looked forward to its arrival each spring. My mother never learned to make anything with it, but we would let the neighbors pick the rhubarb and make pies and jams.

Callipygia said...

freya and paul- ah yes and don't forget the ice cream!

miragee- yes, it finally did get warm. Neat he is in NYC?

lydia- I think that is funny your dad kept mowing it down. I think it is a bit intimidating to look at.

Nancy said...

I thought I was unable to make the big dutch baby without an iron skillet -- thanks for the tip on the pie dish, Calli. As for the rhubard, well -- I can't think of how it could be more delightfully tangy-sweet, spicy and aromatic than the way you describe. Paul and Freya were right, it is fairy-tale!