I remember the first time I tasted raw rhubarb. As many of you will likely remember from previous posts, my family raised strawberries, and in mid to late spring, strawberries and rhubarb go hand-in-hand. I never paid the perennial patch of rhubarb much attention, but one day —while out in the garden with my mom— I happen to notice that rhubarb is a very pretty plant. Ever the precocious aesthete, I was captivated by the glowing red stalks and the way they contrasted with the ruffly, deep green leaves. Of course, rhubarb isn’t something you generally eat raw —unless you are a curious kid— and my mother dutifully warned her children that the leaves shouldn’t be eaten (they are toxic when ingested in large quantities) and that raw rhubarb stalks are “yucky”. But, kids will be kids, and I needed to know exactly how yucky her version of “yucky” really was. So, the moment my mother had her back turned, I bit off a big chunk of a tempting, red, raw stalk she’d harvested and quickly started chewing it. Wowza. Suddenly, I felt as if my entire face were contracting toward the back of my head. My cheeks sunk in and my lips puckered, pursed and curled back into my teeth. Ptht! Ptht! Ptht! Out went the rhubarb. Oh my gosh, I could not get that sour, evil, red substance out of my mouth fast enough. How could something so pretty taste so bad?
Being a mother is —without a doubt— the hardest job on earth. But I imagine it also must be pretty entertaining at times; especially if you have kooky kids. To her credit, as she watched this scene unfold —spitting, writhing and coughing child— my mother didn’t scold or lecture me. But, neither did she make an effort to contain her amusement. And why should she? I had a habit of getting myself into things, in spite of her warnings. At times, I can remember her laughing so hard that she was shaking and had tears running down her face. But I did plenty to cause my mother real worry too. Poor mom. Good or bad, I needed to experience life on my own terms —still do, in fact.
Needless to say, I went off rhubarb for awhile. Actually —let’s be honest— I went off rhubarb for decades. In fact, that experience stayed with me and my taste buds until maybe two years ago. It’s true. I avoided rhubarb like the plague. Oh, I know what you must be thinking: silly girl, rhubarb is delicious! And of course, you are correct. But sometimes, well, you just have to see for yourself.
Getting reacquainted with rhubarb required a nudge from my most-motivational-of-muses: curiosity. One of my favorite local restaurants serves some fantastic, seasonal dishes; always accompanied by interesting side sauces, butters and compotes. And by the way, have you noticed that homemade condiments can completely elevate your dinner from ho-hum to spectacular? It’s true. In the same way that a great dressing makes a salad, a good condiment can completely change a meal. Well, in this case, the dinner was fabulous on its own, but the condiment du jour was a ruby red, rhubarb compote. Yes, there it sat —glowing— taunting and tempting me on the plate. Should I, or shouldn’t I? Well, in classic style, I waited until no one was looking and dove into the deep end of the plate. And, it was delicious. Warm, smooth, slightly tart and distinctly spicy; this was nothing like the rhubarb of my Looney-Tunes, “Long-Haired Hare”, alum-faced, nightmares. Mmmm. Hello rhubarb. Welcome back to my world.
Pretty, isn’t it?
Isn’t the golden-copper-red color just gorgeous?
Suddenly I find myself with a patch of rhubarb in my own garden —sometimes I still can’t believe I actually planted it there— and I’m looking for any way to experiment with my new-found friend in the kitchen. Why not start with that enticing rhubarb compote, right? Of course. Something like apple-sauce in color and consistency —but far more sophisticated atop pancakes, ice cream or even grilled meats— this twist on the basic rhubarb compote has a touch of sweetness from brown sugar and the complexity of warm spices. It could, of course, be multiplied and adapted in myriad ways. But, I got the idea in my head that it might make a mighty fine cocktail. And since it’s Mother’s Day weekend, why not surprise mom with a bit of champagne at breakfast? Just add chilled compote to the bottom of a sparkling flute to create a rhubarb bellini…
Spiced Rhubarb Compote & Rhubarb Bellini
Spiced Rhubarb Compote Ingredients (creates enough compote for a a few cocktails or a dinner condiment)
4 1/2 Cups chopped rhubarb
4 1/2 Tablespoons water
1/2 Cup brown sugar (+ or – to taste, I like less sugar)
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Teaspoons cinnamon (Optional. Eliminate for un-spiced compote)
3/4 Teaspoon ground coriander (eliminate for un-spiced compote)
Mix ingredients together in an oven-proof dish and bake at 325° F until rhubarb is tender (15 minutes or so). Cool and mash or place in a blender to puree. Chill and reserve, refrigerated.
Rhubarb Bellini Ingredients (makes one cocktail)
2 Tablespoons spiced rhubarb compote (or enough to fill approx. 1/4 of the flute)
1-2 Dashes of Cointreau (optional)
Brut Champagne, Prosecco or Cava to fill the glass
Add two tablespoons of chilled rhubarb compote to the bottom of a champagne flute and a dash or two of Cointreau.
Tilt and slowly fill the glass with chilled, brut champagne or prosecco and serve (nice with an orange slice garnish)
Here’s to all of the moms out there! Happy Mother’s Day! Cheers!
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