If you page through my spiral bound notebook stuffed with recipes, you will almost certainly notice that it is spattered and worn and nearly fallen apart. If your eye is particularly of the sort that seeks out patterns, however, you may also notice that somewhere in the realm of 75 percent of the recipes in it are attached to someone’s name.
Beth’s chicken, Peter’s pancakes, Daim cake from Caroline, Liz’s shirley bars, Judy’s scones, Peach’s cardamom bread. And I’m fairly positive that, all around the world, many cooks have similarly labeled recipes, this one from grandma, that one from an old friend, and this one from that lady who used to live down the street. Remember her? She always made the best…
Even some of my cookbooks by acclaimed chefs contain recipes attributed by name to someone else – Lindsay’s sugar cookies or Rob’s famous coleslaw in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Sally Schmitt’s cranberry and apple kuchen or Eric’s staff lasagne in the French Laundry.
Maybe it’s just a lack of creativity in naming. But, I don’t think so. I think there is something deeper behind this urge to put a name, and thus a face and an experience, with a dish. In my own recipe notebook, I love the natural history element that these particular recipes contain. They capture a chronology of people I’ve cooked with and of recipes I liked so much that I asked if I could have them. It situates the meal in space and time and it allows that person, wherever they actually are now, to be with me while I cook “their” dish.
It’s also fascinating to think about the trail this leaves behind these recipes. Sometimes they are named after the original source, but I think just as often my recipe for “Liz’s Shirley bars” is her recipe for “Patty’s Shirley bars,” and it’s Patty’s recipe for “Rose’s Shirley bars.” This trail may perhaps lead all the way back to Shirley herself. Or it may just as well lead to a treasured cookbook, or an old lady’s magazine, or the back of a bag of oats.
I think it would be a fun project to map out these kinds of recipe paths. Then again, I’m a big dork.
At any rate, following this way of thinking, I suppose I should really call this tart “Johan’s rhubarb torte” because that is who I got it from. When we were in Minnesota just after Christmas, Johan, a dear friend of our family, sidled up to me and handed me a piece of paper. ”When it is spring and you have rhubarb, you have to make this recipe,” he said. There was something in his voice that sounded almost like urgency. There was a little more explanation, about how they had had it with family and loved it, but really the only message I took away was, “you must make this.” It took no more convincing than that. I was not going to say no.
So I have waited, sitting edgily on that sense of urgency since December, until there was rhubarb. Now that we are finally well embedded in rhubarb season, I can tell you, Jorunn makes a dang good rhubarb torte. And while this may become called Jorunn’s torte via Johan, I think I’m just going to have to leave the credit with her.
This tart (because in the English meanings of the words, it really is more of a tart than a torte) is a study in simplicity and elegance. It is not showy, but it is still gorgeous, and remarkably wholesome feeling. Wholesome and gorgeous in the way a rosy-cheeked dairy maid in a fairytale picture book is.
The blend for the crust is rich with soft butter and eggs, and, once baked, it somehow inhabits a cozy space somewhere between cake and shortbread. It’s a space where I would be quite happy to take up residence as well, and do nothing all day but gnaw off the corners of wonderful tender, buttery, crumbly things.
And the filling is all rhubarb. No strawberries or other berries to get in the way of the floral, citric tang of the sweetened stalks. There isn’t even vanilla or spice. It’s all rhubarb, just the way I like it best. And in this context, I will hazard to say that you may too. Even if you are usually one to favor the rhubarb-strawberry combo.
Make it quick now, before rhubarb season is over, and you just may find you have friends scribbling down a rhubarb torte recipe associated with your name.
Jorunn’s Rhubarb Torte (makes 1 9-inch tart or several smaller tarts)
- 4 dL (approx. a scant 2 cups) all purpose flour
- 1 dL (approx. a scant 1/2 cup) sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 125 g (scant 9 Tbs.) butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 500 g (About 1 lb.) rhubarb, washed and cut into thin pieces
- 2 dL (1 cup) sugar
- 3 Tbs. potato starch or corn starch
- In a mixing bowl, blend the crust ingredients together well until they form a dough. Shape into a ball, cover and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix together the rhubarb, 2 dL sugar and potato/corn starch in another bowl.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Take 2/3s of the dough and press it evenly into a greased 9 inch tart pan. Press it up the sides as well. Pour in the rhubarb mixture and spread it out into an even layer.
- Take the remaining crust, and roll it out into strips. Weave these into a lattice top for the tart. (I found this quite hard to do and thought my finished tartelettes were going to look like disasters. But, my patched together lattice tops baked up to hide most of the cracks and missing pieces and actually wound up looking ok!)
- Put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet to prevent spills. Transfer to the oven and bake on the middle rack until the crust is golden brown and the filling is soft and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or cooled topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.