Dreams of rhubarb

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 05-16-2023 2:45 PM

I’m impatient. The rhubarb in my yard (I hesitate to use the word “garden” as I am emphatically not a gardener) is coming up. It’s not yet ready to pick, however. It features a number of small leaves but no stalks to speak of as yet.

As readers may recall, rhubarb is one of my favorite foods. I love it so much that I wrote an entire cookbook about it. Part of my love for rhubarb stems from my innate thriftiness. Rhubarb grows abundantly in my yard and that of my neighbors so it represents free food.

I also adore it because it’s one of the first crops of the agricultural year here in New England, along with asparagus, another of my favorites. (I’ll have an asparagus recipe next week!)

When rhubarb finally appears, it’s a sure sign that more goodies are soon to come: peas and strawberries and zucchini and tomatoes and other evidence of earth’s bounty.

And then there’s rhubarb’s flavor. The very tartness of this vegetable masquerading as fruit shrieks of spring.

Rhubarb’s flavor is not easy, but it’s rewarding… like spring in New England.

Just when we start to feel that the heavens will never stop pouring rain down on our heads, we encounter a perfect sunny May day. All is right with the world.

The recipe I’m sharing this week comes from Cornelia Reid of Leyden. Cornelia didn’t want to be featured heavily in this column, but she was willing to pass along her recipe for Rhubarb Dream Bars, however.

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The bars feature a shortbread crust with an eggy rhubarb topping. Cornelia explained that she knows that lots of recipes for similar bars can be found, but she emphasized that this particular recipe enjoys a local pedigree. She picked it up at the produce section of Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield some time ago.

She wasn’t sure precisely how many years ago she found the recipe there, but she estimated at least 25. The recipe (she scanned the original for me) was definitely produced on a typewriter, a machine most of us haven’t seen in decades.

I loved the stains that proudly decorated the paper, signs of happy use over the years.

I told Cornelia that I was anxious to try making the bars but couldn’t do so until my rhubarb came up. I asked whether she had any rhubarb in her yard to spare. (Leyden’s growing season definitely begins earlier than the one here in Hawley.)

She informed me that she has given up on growing rhubarb because her husband Wally won’t eat it. I guess I’ll have to work on Wally’s palate; I have converted a number of reluctant eaters to the love of rhubarb over the years.

Cornelia was kind enough to obtain some rhubarb for me from her neighbor, however. Laura Timmerman of Sweet Morning Farm sent along perfect rhubarb stalks. They were a bright red and looked hearty and healthy.

I must admit that I was a little taken aback by the look of the finished product. The top crust cracked when I started cutting the cooled bars, thanks to its eggy-ness.

Despite my qualms about the cracks, I shared the treats with neighbors, who pronounced them publication worthy. They all enjoyed the contrast in textures and flavors, a cross between shortbread and a meringue. One of my test eaters actually admired the cracks. “This is a treasured look,” he told me reassuringly.

I’m not sure I entirely buy that statement, but I found that the bars certainly had a treasured flavor. To me taste always wins out over appearance. I hope readers feel the same way!

Rhubarb Dream Bars

Ingredients:

For the crust:

2 cups flour

3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup cold butter

For the topping:

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup flour

4 cups diced rhubarb (a bit more than a pound)

Instructions:

Begin by making the crust. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour and the sugar. Use two knives, a pastry blender, or (in a pinch!) your hands to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 15-by-10-inch jelly-roll pan. (I lined the pan with nonstick aluminum foil to make removing the bars easier.)

If you don’t have a jelly-roll pan, you could probably use a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. You might have to bake the crust (and later the topping) a little longer, however. In the jelly-roll pan it should bake for 15 minutes.

To make the filling, blend the eggs, the salt, the sugar, and the flour until they are smooth. Fold in the rhubarb, and spread the mixture on top of the crust.

Bake the bars until they turn light brown and don’t jiggle, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Cool the bars in their pan before slicing and removing them.

Makes about 24 bars, depending on how you cut them.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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