For the love of rhubarb

Two rhubarb recipes to start the summer

Photo: Sara Johannessen / MatPrat

CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor

Rhubarb season is here again! The unfurling green leaves and dazzling pink stalks are the most welcome signs of spring in my garden, a sign of so many good things to come. 

Rhubarb will always remind me of my maternal grandmother, Audrey Bowers, who died a couple weeks ago. She had an infection that came on quite suddenly, and a five-week stay in the hospital couldn’t get it under control. No one, especially her, expected it to take her away. She died just a few weeks before her 86th birthday.

Losing a loved one in the time of COVID adds an extra layer of sorrow on grief. No one could visit her hospital room, so we visited through the window of her ground-floor room and used FaceTime to talk with her until she was too weak to hold the phone. She was able to come home for hospice care and be surrounded by her loved ones. No memorial service could be held at the church or cemetery, so our family gathered in an outdoor gazebo with face masks, sharing memories and tears, but no hugs.

It all hurts, but I’m trying to keep my focus on how she lived her life and just how loved she was.

I have called her “Snow Grama” since I was 3 years old, when a surprise storm one March brought 8 inches of snow to her house just south of Seattle. The name stuck ever since.

My Snow Grama was gentle, reserved, and gracious in all things. She was proud of her 100% Norwegian heritage and the keeper of the family heirlooms from Norway and the family homestead in South Dakota. She was so supportive of her kids and grandkids and delighted in daily photos of her great-grandsons.

Snow Grama and I were quite different from each other in personality: she was a natural introvert, and I like to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. She was a numbers whiz; I am a writer by trade.

We shared a mutual love of the important things in life: Norway, feeding our people with good food, and our beloved rhubarb, the tart perennial vegetable that flourished in her garden, and now in mine.

I’m sharing two of my grandma’s rhubarb recipes that I make every year.

The first is Rabarbrasuppe (Rhubarb Soup), which I consider to be part of Norway’s delicious tradition of fruktsuppe (fruit soup). It comes together quickly: chopped rhubarb simmers on the stovetop with some sugar and water for a few minutes and is lightly thickened because rhubarb is very low in pectin. In Norway, potato starch is used to thicken it, but I substitute cornstarch, which is easier to find in American kitchens. It makes an easy dessert with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, or with a dollop of yogurt, it serves as a great breakfast. It can be served warm or chilled, and frozen for later use if desired.

The second is Rhubarb Crisp, one of the first recipes I learned how to bake on my own. The original recipe is featured in the 1972 cookbook Choice Recipes, a collection of recipes from the women of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Wash. My grandmother was the co-editor, my mom did the illustrations, and the pages are filled with recipes from many family friends and great-grandmothers from both sides of my family. It’s not the month of June without a pan of this crisp!

The oat mixture includes wheat germ, which can be found in the baking aisle. Wheat germ is a concentrated source of fiber, protein, and essential nutrients such as vitamin E, folate, thiamin, zinc, and more. My grandma added it to many of her baked goods. If you don’t have it, flax seed is a good substitute.

In my family, we add a couple drops of red food coloring to the cornstarch mixture to enhance the ruby red color of fresh rhubarb, but it’s optional.

Like the fruit soup, the Rhubarb Crisp can be served with yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream, depending on the time of day.

What rhubarb recipe should I try next? Do you have a recipe that reminds you of your grandmother? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at food@na-weekly.com.

Rabarbrasuppe (Rhubarb Soup)
Adapted from MatPrat.no

12 oz. rhubarb (I used three stalks), chopped
3/4 cup sugar
4 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch or potato starch
1/3 cup cold water
Handful of sliced almonds (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water until smooth. Whisk it into the rhubarb mixture, and cook for an additional minute or two, until thickened. The rhubarb will fall apart into a sauce. Chill if desired. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt and lightly garnish with sliced almonds.

Rhubarb Crisp
By Audrey Gjerde Bowers
(Slightly modified by Christy Olsen Field)

1 cup our of your choice (I use whole wheat)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
4 cups rhubarb, sliced
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cold water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Red food coloring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, mix the our, oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Pour in the melted butter and stir together with a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. You will have some clumps, which is ideal.

Press half of the oat crumb mixture into a 9-inch square pan, and then put in the 4 cups of rhubarb on top. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, whisk together cornstarch and sugar. Whisk in the cold water, a little bit at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook over medium heat and stir continually until it starts to bubble (usually 5-8 minutes) and becomes thick and glossy. Stir in the vanilla and red food coloring. Pour over the rhubarb. Cover with the other half of the crumb mixture. Bake for one hour, or until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbling. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt.

This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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