A Spring Fling with Rhubarb
By Irene Yadao
When I moved to Maine several years ago, rhubarb had been something of an anomaly — I’d only heard about it, but never actually seen or tasted it. I didn’t have any great urge to, either. It was described to me as a fruit that was overly tart, and I’m not particularly fond of tartness.
I grew up in San Diego, where my mother’s repertoire of Filipino dishes highlighted noodles, stews, liver, tripe. Family desserts featured lychee, jackfruit, and coconut. Rhubarb was not in my food lexicon.
But when I worked as a baker in Rockport, I quickly learned that rhubarb strawberry pie was a popular Maine staple. I baked armies of them, especially during the summer, when tourists could not get enough of pie. I spent mornings preparing the rhubarb, slicing the crimson-red stalks into cubes, their celery-like anatomy so unfamiliar to me. Still I resisted them.
I finally relented one day after my co-worker Anne expressed shock at my not having had rhubarb. She baked a delightful treat for the shop which showcased a deep pink rhubarb jam in the center, and she insisted that I try it. It was a Hungarian Rhubarb Shortbread, and it was heavenly. Both the shortbread and the rhubarb jam were a revelation. I was hooked.
Anne passed along the Gale Gand recipe, which you can find here and here. It is an interesting deviation from the typical shortbread in that it includes egg yolks, and its dough is frozen and grated into the baking pan. I attribute both of these to the texture, which is neither cookie nor cake but something in between. It is now my go-to dessert every spring. I started earlier than usual this year when a few weeks ago, the rhubarb stalks from my friend’s garden got large enough to harvest. I couldn’t say no when she offered me an armful.
All photos by Irene Yadao