So, I’m actually your old aunt or uncle. You know, the one who repeats herself several times in a row without realizing it, and who tells the same three stories every time you see her. Yup, that’s me. And that is why I’m going to say what I’m pretty sure I say every time rhubarb enters the conversation. Two things I always say, actually. First, I love rhubarb. So much. I LOVE IT! Second, growing up in Minnesota gives you the impression that every house comes with a rhubarb plant (or several) growing in the yard. It’s like it’s included in any homebuyer’s agreement worth signing, like a house inspection could be derailed if there is no rhubarb plant in the backyard. It grows like a weed around here. And having always had rhubarb, the first spring outside of Minnesota I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do when June rolled around and I wanted to bake a rhubarb cake, but there was no rhubarb outside my backdoor. And it was soooo annoying to have to buy rhubarb at the grocery store.
But, I’m back in Minnesota! And there’s a veritable rhubarb farm growing along the edge of our garage, and I’m finally one of those people of whom I’ve always been secretly (or not so secretly) jealous! One of those people who actually has more rhubarb than they quite know what to do with. Well, almost more. I think, when it comes down to it, I’ll manage.
Fun fact about rhubarb that I just learned last year: if you pull up any rhubarb flowers as soon as they come up, you can keep your rhubarb producing all summer long. Which means that all sorts of ‘and rhubarb’ combinations (raspberry and rhubarb (my favorite), blueberries and rhubarb, peaches and rhubarb, apple and rhubarb…) are more seasonal than I used to think they were when I thought of rhubarb as purely an early summer plant.
In spite of all of these grand combinations, there’s something to be said for straight up rhubarb in baked goods. Fabulously tart rhubarb without the cloak of other fruits or berries to muddy up its character (though it still needs a good cloak of sugar if you don’t want your mouth to pucker up as tight as a miserly fist). I’ve always been a big fan of plain rhubarb pie – no strawberries. I also adore buttery cake with pieces of rhubarb strewn throughout. Rhubarb crisp is, of course, a classic. But never once before had it occurred to me to make rhubarb cobbler.
However, a couple weeks ago was the rhubarb festival in Duluth. Yes, there’s a rhubarb festival here. Feel free to be amused and/or swoon at how fantastic that is. The rhubarb festival looks like your typical street festival, with booths and tents housing activities and plenty of food for sale. But at the rhubarb festival it is, surprise, all rhubarb. Rhubarb races and rhubarb bean bag tosses, rhubarb lemonade, rhubarb bratwurst, rhubarb burritos, and a pajillion rhubarb pies for sale baked by church ladies from around the town. There is rhubarb face painting and a competition for the longest stalk and the biggest leaf. But the highlight of the festival, for me, was the bowls of warm rhubarb cobbler for sale, fresh from the oven of the church along the street where the festival is held, and topped with whipped cream and ice cream. I polished off my bowl with embarrassing speed, and then wished I had gotten at least two more servings. I thought about rhubarb cobbler almost continuously for the next 5 days until I figured I had better just try to make a batch myself.
I hemmed and hawed for far too long about whether I wanted a more biscuit-like topping or more cake like topping. The one from the festival had been somehow perfectly in between – cakey biscuits that were cakey in a way that was good, not bad. Unconvinced of my own ability to achieve that balance, I finally decided to go a little more in the biscuit direction with a topping inspired by Powdermilk biscuits. It seemed fitting and oh-so-Minnesotan to make something that married (bebop-a-rebop) rhubarb pie and Powdermilk biscuits (heaven’s they’re tasty, and expeditious!). Um, except I used mostly cream, not powdered milk, which may be less authentic but did make for a deliciously sandy, light as air biscuit. It was lovely against the stewy rhubarb, to which I added some dark brown sugar for a little darkness and caramel je ne sais quoi.
It scratched my rhubarb cobbler itch, and I have a feeling that as long as I keep pulling out any rhubarb flowers that spring up, I’ll be returning to rhubarb cobbler all summer long.
- about 6 cups of chopped rhubarb stalk, in 1 inch pieces
- 1 cups sugar
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 Tbs. cornstarch
- 1¾ cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 5 Tbs. cold butter, cut into small chunks
- ½ cup cold heavy cream
- ¼ cup, plus a couple Tbs. as necessary, cold milk (or you can use all cream)
- whipped cream or ice cream for serving
- Heat your oven to 35oF.
- For the filling, toss together the rhubarb, white and brown sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla, and cornstarch and dump it into a baking pan large enough to hold it in about a 2-inch deep layer.
- To make the topping, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until only pea-sized chunks remain. Add the cream and ¼ cup of milk, and stir everything together. Add enough extra milk for everything to come together into a shaggy, fairly sticky dough. Drop the dough in large spoonfuls over the top of the filling.
- Bake in the oven until the topping is browned and cooked through and the rhubarb is bubbling, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes (mainly so you don't scald the inside of your mouth!). Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.