My husband grew up eating rhubarb. No surprise there, since his family lived on a 200 acre dairy/crop farm in SE Michigan. Flat and full of farms. When we drove out for the first time from the college we were attending in southern PA, I was amazed. I had never seen any place so flat, so wide open. Up until then, my travels had all been confined to places with hills and mountains.
The farm country where he lived,- whether you had extra rhubarb or even if you just were a nice person, don’t bother trying to give rhubarb away. Everyone grows it there, a patch in the back yard. They have plenty. They don’t want yours.
I grew up eating rhubarb. Which is not that remarkable, even though I lived in town. This town contained about 1000 citizens in a rural section of New York State that is too far south to be upstate, too far north to be in the Southern Tier, too far east to be western NY, and too far west to be in the Finger Lakes region, although that is probably the closest. Our house was on a large double lot that I assume came with its own rhubarb when we moved there from a smaller house in the same town. A house that was so old, that while we lived there for 13+ years and my parents spent the entire time fixing it up, they hardly made a dent. My dad figured that out and sold the place before he had another 13 years into it.
I do remember the first time I noticed rhubarb in the store, and it wasn’t that long ago. I had to think for a minute, but it was not a stretch to realize that now there are many people with the desire to eat rhubarb that have neither the desire, the knowledge, or the space to grow rhubarb. And rhubarb is becoming one of those foods that you have to explain to the checkout person what it is so they know what produce code to use. The rhubarb I saw in the store didn’t look like the rhubarb we grew at home anyway. Gigantic stalks, with a beautiful reddish hue, no bug marks, no weather marks or brown spots. Beauty is only skin deep. I bet it didn’t even taste sour.
Just like fresh asparagus is given homage in this part of the world because it signals, as does the crocus, better things to come, the first rhubarb pie cements spring turning over into summer, with no going back. My sister-in-law brought this amazing rhubarb-strawberry coffee cake to a family gathering at the farmhouse back when our kids were all small. It is not only delicious, but adds a little variety to the standard rhubarb recipes: pies and sauces. With a buttermilk cake base, a fruit filling and crumb topping, it is a nice combination of flavors and textures. Up until this past weekend, I have made it (as she did) in a 9×13” baking pan; it makes a very full pan of cake and feeds plenty of people. Up until this past weekend, every time I made it I had plenty of people around to eat it. I do grow rhubarb, and this coffee cake has often been part of our summer kick-off weekends, as the kids would come home from college and be ready for home cooked meals. But when I found myself with rhubarb to use, but few family around, I didn’t want to make the full cake just for the three of us (myself, hubbie, and teenage son); if I made it, we would eat it. All of it! With the streusel topping, it doesn’t freeze well, so eating some now and saving some for later wasn’t going to work. I thought about cutting the recipe in half, but making muffins seemed like a better solution. Muffins are an easy give-away…
I used my dark, non-stick muffin pans, without papers. The first pan got a spray of PAM, the second I tried without the spray, and the last got the spray again (because by that point I found out what I was trying to find out). I recommend spraying even non-stick pans. I did not use papers; with the moist batter and sticky filling I imagined it being a little difficult to peel them away. The final round was not with muffin pans, but small ramekins; I used them because the cake didn’t need to be scooped out, but could be served right in the ramekin. It was a pretty good size serving, more of a dessert than a muffin. The fruit filling in the middle thwarted me at first, – it divided the muffin into thirds, and it wanted to stay that way. With a little tlc, they were very salvageable, and the guys said they looked and tasted fine. They didn’t look like muffins, but once scooped out onto the decorative muffin papers they passed for something I did on purpose. I gave several to my sister; I didn’t have to explain or apologize for their appearance. They really didn’t last long, so I guess it worked out okay.
I will definitely do the coffee cake as muffin-like again, just carefully scooping them out (making sure they are cool) and gently easing them onto the muffin papers. I stored them in a container that was not quite airtight because the streusel tends to get soggy if it can’t breathe. They weren’t around long enough to get soggy; frankly, I think they were a little more portable than coffee cake hunks. I know they traveled to work and to school, doubled as an after-school, after-dinner, or bed-time snack for The Growing One, and I also enjoyed them with my morning coffee while they were around. Just waiting for that next pulling of rhubarb!!
Here is the recipe from my sister-in-law, Connie Gordon:
Rhubarb-Strawberry Coffee Cake
Filling: 3C sliced rhubarb, fresh or frozen, 1” pieces
1 qt fresh strawberries, cleaned,hulled, and mashed
2 T lemon juice
1 C sugar
1/3 C cornstarch
Combine in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened (about 1 minute). Remove from heat, set aside.
Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If making in a 13×9” pan, grease pan.
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 C (2 sticks, or 16 T) cold butter, cut in pieces
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter, until mixture is crumbly. Mix together 1 and 1/2C buttermilk and 2 eggs. Add to dry mixture, stirring until completely moistened.
If making in baking pan, spread ½ of batter into pan, then spread the fruit filling, then remaining batter. Top with streusel (recipe below).
If making in muffin tins, split the batter into 2 bowls, approx. 2 C in each bowl. Spray non-stick muffin tins with PAM (lightly). Add batter to muffin tin to cover the bottom (about a heaping teaspoon). Spread around the bottom to cover if needed. Add 1 Tablespoon of fruit filling, then a dollop of cake batter (another heaping teaspoon). Use batter from one bowl for the bottom and from the other for the top, so that it comes out even. You can spread the top batter with a fork, but it isn’t necessary; it will cover as it bakes. Top generously with streusel, covering the cake batter (about a heaping teaspoon).
¾ cup flour
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup melted butter
Mix together; sprinkle over batter.
Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the center tests done. You may want to put foil on the shelf below, as the fruit filling has a tendency to boil over.
Bake the muffin-like creatures 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are set in the center. I did not have any trouble with the fruit boiling over in the muffins pans. Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edge to loosen; be careful not to dig into the cakes. Carefully lift the cakes out of the pan and set on a decorative paper or muffin paper. I found my frosting knife (the bent type) to work the best. Makes approx. 30.