Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rhubarb: Long Overdue

I have the fickle weather to blame for this recipe, which bounces between the flavors of summer and fall as often as the temperatures here fluctuate between sweater cozy and flip flop breezy. Yesterday morning I headed out the door at 8 o'clock with a scarf looped around my neck, and today I am back in sandals and a t-shirt. So, can you see why I found myself in the kitchen last week with two stalks of tangy rhubarb in one hand and sweet Bartlett pears in the other?


As spring ripened into summer this year, I spent a good deal of time reading about other bloggers' mouthwatering rhubarb recipes but never managed to acquire any for myself.

I have sweet memories of walking the worn trail along the tree line of our property back in Bellingham, Washington on warm summer evenings with a wrinkled grocery bag and my mom's butcher knife. The path dipped unevenly and awkwardly and felt best on the soles of bare feet, even if I had to brave a portion of gravel once I got to the end and crossed our neighbors' driveway. But beyond that driveway rhubarb grew against an old shed, its massive green leaves fanning up and out from grey walls of old untreated wood. As I bent over to part the green canopy and reach my fingers down toward the dirt, Tanir, our family dog, who had trotted ahead of me the whole way here, would dart after an invisible rabbit. Raising each stalk of rhubarb in front of me, I would swing my knife through the air and slice cleanly through it, letting the poisonous leaves accumulate in a decomposing pile to the side.

Not every rhubarb gathering day was sunny and peaceful. Some involved my mom prodding me to put on a jacket and face a chilly breeze or drizzly rain, and I would head out simply to get the job done, forgetting to notice the deep green, towering pine trees around me (I promise never to take them for granted again!). Surely what occupied my mind as I counted the number of stalks filling my sack and thus mom's quota, was the idea of a house smelling of rhubarb-y baked things. Warm muffins with brown sugar piled on their craggy tops. Custard bars with rhubarb in the creamy middle, a cookie crust, and whipped cream cheese on top. Dark, nutty coffee cake.

These are the things that made me yearn for rhubarb starting in late spring and through this summer. Even into the middle of fall, I hesitated to give up the idea of going without for a whole year, which is why, when I saw rhubarb at the Central Market in Dallas two weeks ago, I didn't have to debate with myself very long before grabbing two stalks. However, when I put the produce sticker on the bag and saw that I had just committed to paying $6-something my jaw almost dropped. Sure, it's Texas (where produce doesn't come cheaply or abundantly) and, sure, these were probably rare late bloomers, but I don't think I've ever paid for rhubarb before! It always could be gathered at our neighbors' or tracked down through other friends.

From all that reminiscing comes today's recipe. It has to do with that rhubarb I payed a black market price for and took form when I realized the ends of the stalks were starting to turn brown and soften. Not wanting to lose an inch more of my precious purchase, I surveyed the contents of my fridge and cupboards, and gleefully concluded that a clafoutis was the only fitting solution. I opened my mom's cookbook to her Apple-Raisin Clafouti recipe for inspiration and, in need of a bit more fruit, grabbed two perfectly ripe pears.


Now, my mom put her clafoutis recipe in the dessert section of the cookbook she made for her children, but I think it could just as agreeably be found in the breakfast section. After all, the batter is a lot like that of an oven pancake and it's loaded with fruit, so why not?


Rhubarb and Pear Clafoutis*
Adapted from my mother.

Serves 6.

3 cups rhubarb, small cubes
2 cups Barlett pear, small cubes
1/4 cup Turbinado raw cane sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter in a 2-qt. baking dish in oven. Place fruit mixture on top of melted butter, and bake for 15 minutes, or until fruit is soft.

4. While waiting, combine the rest of the ingredients in a blender and whir on high for 1 minute.

5. Pour batter over hot mixture and return to oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

*My mom spells Clafoutis without an s ("Clafouti"), and from Googling it, it seems like both spellings are acceptable, but if I'd love to learn more about the two forms. If you're a French speaker, please pipe up!


Sherri said...

wow, this recipe looks tasty, I'm adding this one to my "must make" file...

Rachael said...

Oh yes, there are great variations you can do with clafouti. My last one was with fresh peaches last month, at Elise's request. Surely you remember me fixing it for your breakfast before school and weekend mornings many times, even though it was a favorite dessert too. A lasting memory is making the classic cherry clafouti--in which I spent way too long pitting the small cherries from our backyard cherry tree. I think Jared or Kiah had to climb the tree for me to gather the cherries way out on the high limbs.
Good times. And thanks, Lily, for all the rhubarb you picked with me, and for me. Still a dear.

Antonia said...

Rhubarb is an all-time favourite of mine and I adore any kind of clafoutis so this looks heavenly to me. Sadly it isn't the season for rhubarb here so I'll have to wait patiently for a few months...!

Lael said...

Sherri: It really is! I'd love to know what you think when you get around to making it.

Rachael: Thanks for the additional clafoutis recipes. I didn't mean to leave you out of my rhubarb-gathering memories either - I'm so glad we shared some of those times. And I loved climbing that cherry tree too! Thanks for all the delicious food you gave us.

Antonia: Yes, it isn't rhubarb season here anymore...I just found some stray stalks. But while you're waiting for the rhubarb to ripen over in dear England, you can use practically any fruit you want!

Anonymous said...

Exquisite photos Lael!