Years ago when my father-in-law was ill, I asked him if there was anything he wanted, any little thing I could do to lift his spirits. He answered, after a nanosecond’s hesitation, “Well, I’d love a rhubarb pie.”
Where did that request come from? No one in the family seemed to know about this quiet craving for rhubarb or how long he’d harbored it. But he didn’t have to tell me twice. No matter that he was in Connecticut and I was in Miami, where rhubarb doesn’t exactly grow on trees. No matter that rhubarb was pretty much as foreign to me then as, well, just about anything foreign. I was on a mission. I searched every indoor and outdoor market I knew for fresh, deep-pink stalks, finally settling for a bag of frozen from a gourmet grocery whose produce aisle I’d long-since scoured.
Finding a rhubarb pie recipe proved equally challenging. There wasn’t a beloved family version tucked into my mother-in-law’s recipe-card file. My husband had never even heard of rhubarb, and if he’d ever had it in a pie, that was news to him. This was also a few years before every recipe known to man would be catalogued on the interwebs, so I did it the old-fashioned way–leafing through my cookbook collections and ridiculously large stash of Bon Appétit magazines.
I don’t think I knew he was dying. Maybe he did. Maybe that’s why he was dredging up some long-buried food memories. All I really knew was there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him. Except this. So I did. I’m not sure who I was really making feel better, me or him.
Years later, I can’t remember which recipe I used or where I found it. I do remember strong-arming my brother into carrying that pie on his flight north (Could you even take a pie on a plane now? Did a pie bomber spoil that for us too?) and delivering it to my father-in-law. I also remember that it made my husband’s dad happier than I ever expected. And if that pie arrived in any condition except perfect, he never let me know.
Now I have a soft spot for rhubarb. I know it has a short season and maybe a smaller fan base than some of the flashier cobbler ingredients. But when I see a rhubarb recipe, I never fail to bookmark it. You never know when it might come in very handy.
Fresh Cooking author Shelley Boris likes rhubarb when it’s very lightly cooked and not too sweet, as in this shortcake recipe. “Barbara Kafka, the cookbook author and great cook, came to our kitchen once to cook with us, and we made rhubarb shortcakes with fresh cheese in the biscuits in place of whipped cream,” Boris writes. “She showed us a technique for cooking the rhubarb super fast with nothing but a little sugar. These shortcakes are made with part almond flour and served with whipped cream. Try this dessert with strawberries along with or instead of rhubarb.”
Monkfish Book Publishing
A Year of Recipes from the Garrison Institute Kitchen
by Shelley Boris
Photographs by Caroline Kasterine
- 3 cups rhubarb, cut into ½ -in. pieces
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 2. cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
- ⅔ cup almond flour
- 1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
- 1. tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into ½-in. pieces
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 egg, beaten
- ⅛ cup raw sugar (optional)
- To assemble shortcakes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 to 3 tsp. granulated or confectioner’s sugar (optional)
- Spread the sugar in a saucepan. Sprinkle the rhubarb on top.
- Turn the heat to medium and cook, shaking the pan frequently, for 6 to 8 minutes. Avoid stirring or use a rubber spatula sparingly. The rhubarb remains whole in the pan but gets soft quickly. As the sugar melts and blends with the juice released from the rhubarb, the pieces wilt. When they looked relaxed in the pan, remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a shallow bowl. Place in the refrigerator right away to stop the cooking and to chill. You can make the rhubarb a day or two in advance, if necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Mix the flour, almond flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder, and salt, with a paddle attachment of a standing mixer on low speed.
- Add the butter and mix until the mixture is crumbly.
- Add the heavy cream and mix until the dough just begins to come together. Remove the dough, form a ball, then flatten.
- Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface to 1-inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter to cut biscuits, getting as many as you can the first time. (The second roll doesn’t come out baked as light and flaky as the first.)
- Glaze the top with beaten egg (or use heavy cream for a lighter shine) and sprinkle with raw sugar (if using).
- Bake until just barely golden, 15 to 25 minutes.
- Chill a metal mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the heavy cream and optional sugar and vanilla and whip by hand for about 3 minutes or in the machine with the whisk attachment for about 1 minute until it forms soft peaks.
- Slice the shortcakes in half and place the bottom halves on individual plates or a platter. Divide the fruit evenly and place it on the cut biscuit. Pour the resulting fruit juice over the fruit so that the biscuit soaks up the liquid. Top with a spoonful or two of whipped cream.