Baked Rhubarb on Fried Polenta Rounds
Rhubarb. Do people either love it or hate it? Have most people even tried it? Among those who have tried rhubarb, has it only been in pie combined with strawberries?
As spring emerges each year, let’s face it, there are hardly masses of folks expressing their excitement for the appearance of rhubarb at the local market. I don’t see a big glut of creative preparations for rhubarb, or chefs using it in a diverse variety of ways. Some recent years, I’ve had to search out the spring rhubarb as it no longer seems as readily available.
My eighty-nine year old Aunt Betty recollects rhubarb as the spring vegetable annually purchased upon its first appearance at the farmers market, then prepared and consumed almost for medicinal purposes, that was, to clear the lungs after a long winter. She hated it.
Last Christmas my friend Frani gave me an original 1890 copy of “The New York Cook Book” “A Complete Manual of Cookery, In All Its Branches” by Marie Martinelo. As with many earlier date cookbooks, designated sections for individual fruits was uncommon, instead, fruits were mostly tied into recipes for preserving, beverages, and cake and pie baking. The chapters focused on other more pressing chores of the day, such as making butter, cheese, maximizing household hints, and preparations for the sick. There appears no mention of rhubarb in this book, nor in the reprint of “The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook” leading me to believe that rhubarb has never held a place, at least in the United States, as a favored fruit, and especially compared to its correlated pie friend, the strawberry.
Somewhat confirming this notion, the 1972 print of “James Beard’s American Cookery” where fruit does have its own designated section, rhubarb is included. However, Beard then describes rhubarb as “coming into general use,” “although I would not describe it as a champion among spring fruit.” He writes. The statement was in response to the paragraph above where a Miss Leslie indicates that “Rhubarb is held in poor esteem by some of the early cooking authorities.” Miss Leslie also says “it is by no means as good as gooseberries.” Hmm. On the other hand, I don’t tend to see lots of gooseberries gracing markets in mid-to-late spring these days either.
Still, I love rhubarb and always look forward to its appearance at the market each spring, baking and separating the cooked, tart rosy colored fruit into small batches, freezing some for later use. Baked rhubarb can be used in pies, spread on toast, or enjoyed with afternoon tea or as an Hors d’ Oeuvre as prepared today, Baked Rhubarb on Fried Polenta Rounds.
After photographing the crispy stuffed pink rounds, I lined them up on a white rectangular tray set on the counter for snacking. OK, I admit it, with just a bit of mischievous pranking in mind, as my 9 year old my grandson the J-Dude is into this sort of thing these days. I figured he and the posse would come through after school thinking these were cookies and have a bite. They did. But they didn’t end up in the waste basket, they loved them.
Later on, upon her arrival home from Baltimore for the weekend, my youngest, Alex the Athlete, snapped up a few and loved them too. Does this prove that people might like rhubarb more if they didn’t know what it was, or, if it were served with a complementary companion, such as polenta, or, if even served more frequently as James Beard’s suggested “coming into general use?”
I did use a couple of good sprinklings of coarse kosher salt as a topping finish, plain polenta being what it is and rhubarb although perhaps not the “champion of spring fruit,” remains as one spring fruit I continue to hold in high esteem.
(If you would like to give Strawberry Rhubarb Pie a try Marci at ‘Vegging At the Shore’ shared a lovely recipe last week, you can view that here.)