Friends with benefits, a catch phrase from a different generation perhaps. I have a collection of cookbooks and recipes and in reality friends with culinary benefits. One such friend recently taught me about the delights of rhubarb, a vegetable I’d never tasted before.
Rhubarb is a perennial plant, coming up on its own year after year. It is one of the first spring time plants to be ready for harvest, usually in April or May. The stalks look a lot like celery, however, they are tart in taste and best cooked with sugar. Sue Davis demonstrated the proper way to harvest the stalks while explaining that her grandmother insisted that she “reach in and pinch the bottom with her thumb and forefinger and then twist it off .” She said that is the only way to pull off the stalks and maybe it helps to keep the plants in production longer. She added “That might be an old wives tale, but I will always do it the way my grandma taught me.”
After you have the rhubarb stalks washed and cleared of their poisonous leaves, chop them into bite size pieces. Sue demonstrated two different uses for the vegetable, one a stewed side dish and the other baked into a cake. Preparation of the side dish is a simple matter of adding the rhubarb and sugar to taste to a pot of boiling water,then cooking till tender. I found the tart flavor interesting but the texture a little foreign. Making it one of those dishes you need to warm up to slowly.
The rhubarb coffee cake on the other hand was delicious. I loved the tart flavor and the perfect texture that it brought to the sweet, moist and crumbly cake. This confection was both sophisticated in its combined ingredients, yet had the grace of true comfort food. Pouring tea from a delicate Minton tea service, and then serving up the coffee cake from the cast iron skillet used in its preparation, it occurred to me that this was so like our hostess. Fine, lovely and delicate with a tough as cast iron approach to all things in life.
A true and treasured friend with culinary benefits is a wonderful thing. When that friend is willing to share a special recipe who will blab (blog) it to her favorite readers, well, that is a win, win situation all around. Here is Sue Davis’s rhubarb coffee cake recipe.