Around this time every year, I wait for them to appear, those ruby red or speckled green-and-pink stalks of rhubarb.
More than any other fruit or vegetable, rhubarb to me is a sign of the changing season. It is the signal that summer is arriving in bundles of tart stalks to be baked into pies and cakes, stewed to make a bright pink syrup for cocktails.
I snap up what I can when I see it at the farmers’ markets and I’m not above begging friends with healthy supplies to share their wealth. I take all I can and more, slicing and freezing the excess for rhubarb cravings that come later in the season.
Year-round, I save rhubarb recipes as I wait, imagining the hand pies, scones and fools I will make once I get my hands on the first stalks of the season.
A few weeks ago, tweets began appearing in my timeline that the time for rhubarb was finally here. But I was going to be away for the following two weekends and didn’t want to buy any without having the proper time to dedicate to making all the things I had been craving over the past several months. I would have to wait.
On the final day of being away, as I played fetch with my friend’s dog in the backyard of their Victoria, B.C., home, I spied in the corner of their garden a mass of rhubarb.
Sure, he only has three legs but I tired of playing fetch long before he did.
The giant, lushly green leaves created a canopy over the bed, hiding away a forest of ruby stalks that had visions of baking filling my head. Could I please, I asked, take just a little bit of it home with me?
“Take as much as you’d like,” I was instructed. “We probably won’t use much of it.”
With knife in hand, I culled a huge bundle of the stuff (trying to still show some restraint, though tempted to take it all), rolled it into a plastic shopping bag and packed it in my luggage for the flight back to Calgary. I was glad I hadn’t bothered to take much out to the coast, giving me that much more room for this care package of rhubarb.
It was the best souvenir of the trip.
A few days later, I finally had enough time to get into the kitchen and put that souvenir to use.
In the past, I’ve fallen in love with crumb cakes and little cobblers. I have serious plans for pie. And no summer is complete without a rhubarb cocktail from a recipe my grandmother gave me several years ago.
But for the first rhubarb of the season, I wanted to start simply. A recipe for Norwegian Rhubarb Cake seemed like the right place.
A very straightforward cake, there’s no need to cream butter and sugar, no fussing over letting the rhubarb macerate in sugar. There’s not even a need to break out the mixer.
So, in the space of less than 45 minutes, I had cake — and the first bite of rhubarb this year.
Still warm from the oven, it was the perfect afternoon snack. Not overly sweet, it’s punctuated with tart pieces of rhubarb that played nicely against the tender cake.
Thankfully, too, it only put a small dent in my rhubarb supply, leaving me plenty more for the next project. I just need to decide which one.
Norwegian Rhubarb Cake
I found the recipe on a blog called Outside Oslo and adapted it only slightly, upping the amount of rhubarb and omitting a dusting of icing sugar, which people should still feel free to do just before serving. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream would be nice, as well, but is not necessary.
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
- 1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
- 1 1/4 cup (310 mL) flour
- 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1/4 to 1/3 lb (125 to 170 g) rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch (1-cm) coins
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well mixed. While still mixing, slowly pour in the butter and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until just combined, then pour into the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle over the rhubarb slices.
Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. (Cakes baked in a smaller springform pan will take a bit longer because the cake is deeper.)
Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake, if necessary, before removing the springform side.
Makes 1 cake.