Rhubarb cake

Savoring the ‘barb

*** Updated 6/19/19 with recipe contributions from readers … plus a favorite recipe that I forgot to include!

Michael Pollan has seven words for eating: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

I wish I could come up with only seven words for eating rhubarb. I need 12: “Eat rhubarb, mostly with sugar and butter, not too much of either.”

It’s almost a competition (with myself): Find a rhubarb dish that provides a delightful amount of tang and adequate amount of sweetness. (Hint: The roasted rhubarb recipes are the ones that really deliver.)

Finding that balance requires copious rhubarb for weekend experimentation. Ironically, we are getting our biggest harvest this year in a spot where I tried to eradicate rhubarb several years ago.

I had made the painful decision to dig up rhubarb plants in a raised bed where they were languishing. I set the divisions in pots to give away or replant elsewhere (I finally gave away the last of those pots this year) and dug a new hole (into which I may have dropped a frozen fish carcass) and set down a tiny Romeo bush cherry, planning for it to fill out the bed as years go by.

Rhubarb leaves
Giant rhubarb stems next to my original rhubarb raised bed for scale …

Fast forward to the year after eradication: the rhubarb came back somewhat vigorously, to the right of the cherry bush. This year, the rhubarb is encroaching on the cherry bush, just as it attempts to set its first bumper crop. Until now I’ve never grown rhubarb with leaves as big as a king-sized pillowcase. And I’ve been trying ….

Selfie with rhubarb leaf
Rhubarb much bigger than my head.
Rhubarb cake
My take on a buttery rhubarb and spruce tip cake featured in the Juneau Empire. I added rose-scented geranium sugar and left out the lemon zest.

So far this year I’ve used our unexpected rhubarb bounty to make two new rhubarb recipes, one old favorite recipe, and an okay recipe for rhubarb chutney (I prefer it chunkier). This rhubarb-spruce tip cake recipe from a creative and talented Juneau Empire writer/blogger was a huge hit (I think mine looks better than hers, to be honest). The rhubarb-lentil dish was appalling (not sure what I did wrong). I also made my old favorite rhubarb-rosewater syrup, which is perfect in beverages or poured over ice cream.

I can’t wait for an occasion to make this upside-down cake from Saveur which I’ll warn you will fall short of expectations if you don’t watch for a perfect amount of caramelization. I’ll probably also make this very simple rhubarb jam, which is just as delicious as the fancier rhubarb-ginger or rhubarb-rosemary jams.

I may also try to find a good rhubarb pickle recipe and churn out a few rhubarb galettes – the latter with the frozen puff pastry from the grocery store and long stems of rhubarb sprinkled with whatever spices strike a chord (ginger, cardamom?) and a little sugar. No recipe required.

The last few years, we’ve mostly eschewed rhubarb pie due to a growing aversion to sugar-heavy desserts. Though … we wouldn’t turn down rhubarb pie if it magically appeared in front of us!

If you have a favorite rhubarb recipe you’d like to share, you are very welcome to share it in the comments.

Updated material below ….

Here are a few recipes readers have contributed off-line that sound amazing:

* Rhubarb Muffins: Kate says the buttermilk makes them especially great. She usually increases the rhubarb and adds fresh ginger.

* Rhubarbecue: Boneless country ribs with rhubarb BBQ sauce?!?

* From Barbara: “I like to steam juice rhubarb in large quantities While the juice is cooling down, I mix with honey and cinnamon. This is excellent to drink, or make soda by adding yogurt whey to the cooled juice and leaving it on the countertop in a bottle with a bale for a few days. The juice is also excellent for making sorbet! The hot steamed juice can be canned into whatever size jars for future use. I also like to thinly slice fresh rhubarb to go into garden salads.”

Sausage with Chard and Rhubarb: Another recommendation from Kate that we will try this summer.

Lastly, I should mention that I left out one of my favorite rhubarb recipes of all time. It’s too special to make often. Rhubarb, Rose and Cardamom Jam (Diane Henry)

Garden plans

Gardening with a little help from Excel

Every year I get out my pencil and draw a garden plan for my raised beds that provides for rotation of plants like potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and kale.

Crop rotation is no easy task when you have limited space, and so I don’t worry too much about rotating lettuce, squash, or tomatoes. At least in Alaska, these plants don’t seem to be as prone to diseases or pests that build up in the soil over multiple seasons.

Low tunnel raised bed
I use a (very) flexible soaker hose and plastic IRT mulch in my low tunnel, where I usually plant tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers, with minimal rotation.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I experimented with an Excel version of my garden layout this year. I saved the spreadsheet in my iCloud Drive and printed a paper copy so I could consult it anytime, anywhere – on my phone, my iPad, etc.

I am really pleased with the spreadsheet so far, for several reasons.

First of all, I always change my plans around a bit in the midst of planting. This year, for the first time ever, I’ve gone back and fixed my spreadsheet to reflect what I actually did, reprinted it, et voilà!

Even better, I didn’t need to worry about getting dirt, water, and illegible scribbles on my garden plan that will make it indecipherable in later years. (After carrying my old garden plans out in the garden for years, it’s getting hard to read them. I’ll probably need to trace over them and scan if I want to preserve them.)

I should mention that before I started experimenting in Excel, I did look around online for a customizable garden spreadsheet that could be downloaded for free. In 15-20 minutes, I didn’t find one that met my basic parameters … at least not for free.

The purpose of this post is to share my spreadsheet (for free and without copyright permissions required) with the disclaimer that it requires very minor spreadsheet skills. I customized this sheet with square grids to mimic the actual footage of my raised beds. I created circles and rectangles for various plants and planting schemes, based on individual plant spacing needs. I didn’t spend a lot of time on this spreadsheet, which is partly why I don’t need or want attributions. I believe that others can improve greatly on the spreadsheet – if you do so, please consider sharing your layout, too!

NOTE: I make no claims that the spacing I provided is fully adequate to the needs of my plants. For example, even though I gave my cucumbers in the low tunnel a running head start by planting them first, they will get shadowed by squash and tomato vines. This situation will only be rectified by building a new low tunnel dedicated to cucumbers 😉

I hope this spreadsheet is helpful to at least one reader, maybe in a future planting season, because … holy cow … it’s June already!