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.