Proving the big tang theory

Posted May 26, 2009, at 4:54 p.m.

As it turns out, dear readers, you really, really, really love rhubarb.

The homely-yet-handsome plant figures into a wealth of your recipes, many of which were submitted into the Bangor Daily News’ rhubarb recipe contest, which culminated with a taste-testing a week ago.

Our judges included Bernadette Gaspar, co-owner of Frank’s Bake Shop in Bangor and herself a rhubarb fan; BDN photographer and amateur gourmand Kate Collins; and yours truly, who grew up eating her grandmother’s rhubarb pies and jams.

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After the arduous task of tasting all of the entries, we settled upon three winners: Belinda Campbell of Brewer, with her Rhubarb Coffee Cake with Caramel Sauce; Heidi Hooper of Orrington, with her Rhubarb Crumble Parfaits; and Leonard Crowe of Carmel, with his Rhubarb Custard Pie.

Campbell, an avid baker, jumped at the opportunity to enter the contest — especially since she has had plenty of time to practice her skills on her co-workers and grandchildren.

“The girls here at work said this recipe was the best so far,” said Campbell, who works in the birth records department for Eastern Maine Medical Center. “They’re my guinea pigs. I’m always trying new things out on them.”

When Campbell isn’t baking, she’s gardening. She tends to an impressive vegetable garden at her Brewer home, with a special section devoted to our favorite backyard delicacy.

“We have a plot out back just for rhubarb. I freeze and can it all the time. I have a cookbook full of rhubarb recipes I’ve collected over the years. I make anything and everything,” said Campbell. “I make a really great raspberry rhubarb jelly, that I gave to a friend of mine who doesn’t like rhubarb. He liked that, though.”

Her winning recipe contained everything we like about rhubarb — the tart, tangy flavor, mellowed just enough by a little sweet, and not overpowered by other flavors.

“I like the caramel sauce with it, because it’s sweet enough to balance out the kind of tart of the rhubarb,” said Campbell. “I actually put more rhubarb in than what the recipe calls for, just because I like it so much.”

While we judged all the dishes on two basic criteria — tastiness and the amount of rhubarb flavor — visual appearance counted as a secondary standard. Heidi Hooper’s Rhubarb Crumble Parfait was certainly the prettiest entry.

“I love the way it tastes, and I love the way it looks,” said Hooper. “I like the tart rhubarb and the sweetness of the creamy mixture, as well as the crunch. It’s a good combination. I served it last Saturday to six people at dinner at my home, and everyone loved it.”

Leonard Crowe’s Rhubarb Custard Pie was one of several pielike desserts entered into the contest — but the fluffy, custardlike texture of his was the most appealing of them all.

“I find different recipes, and I pick and choose different ingredients until I get something I like,” said Crowe, who said he often peruses the Web site fooddownunder.com for ideas. “This is pretty similar to something out of a Betty Crocker cookbook. I really like the custard part of it.”

Like Campbell, Crowe has a big rhubarb patch at his home in Carmel, so he’s always experimenting.

“I’ve got a huge patch of rhubarb behind the house, so every year I try to think of something to do with it,” said Crowe. “I make it just about every other week, for all the kids and grandkids and neighbors.”

Our top three winners weren’t the only folks to give us rhubarb love, of course. Sharon Bray of Orland wrote to tell us that she blanches her rhubarb before use, cutting a bit of its tartness. Joyce Lovely of Orono brought us a rhubarb-ginger jam that her grandmother used to make while she was growing up in Liverpool, England. And Bob Mowdy of Bradford even brought us three bottles of rhubarb wine — two strawberry rhubarb, one raspberry rhubarb — which we gladly quaffed as an aperitif, after the rest of the taste-testing was done.

That’s only part of the rhubarb-centric recipes you brought us last week. Many thanks to all entrants, and to Bernadette Gaspar and Kate Collins for judging.

Belinda Campbell’s Rhubarb Coffee Cake with Caramel Sauce

Serves 6-8.

½ cup shortening

1½ cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

2½ cups finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb

FOR TOPPING:

½ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons cold butter

FOR CARAMEL SAUCE:

½ cup butter, cubed

1 cup packed brown sugar

½ cup heavy whipping cream

In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Combine flour and soda, and add to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in rhubarb. Transfer to a greased 13-inch-by-9-inch baking pan. In another small bowl combine brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Mix in the butter until crumbly and sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

For the sauce, in a small saucepan melt butter. Stir in brown sugar and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3-4 minutes until slightly thickened. Serve over warm coffee cake.

Heidi H. Hooper’s Rhubarb Crumble Parfait

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons salted butter

1¾ pounds rhubarb, trimmed, cut into ½ inch slices (about six cups)

¾ cup sugar

ª cup chilled whipping cream

½ mascarpone cheese

½ cup powdered sugar

ª cup plain yogurt

FOR TOPPING:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Melt two tablespoons butter in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add rhubarb and ¾ cup sugar. Cover and simmer until rhubarb is tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until thickened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Refrigerate until cold, about one hour. Rhubarb mixture can be made one day ahead, if needed.

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Mix flour and 6 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl, and add 5 tablespoons of cubed butter. Rub together with fingertips until small moist clumps form, and sprinkle onto baking sheet. Bake until golden, mixing often, for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Beat cream, mascarpone and powdered sugar in medium bowl to stiff peaks. Fold in yogurt and chill. Spoon ¤ cup rhubarb into each of four wineglasses. Top with ¼ cup cream mixture. Sprinkle each with ¼ cup crumbs. Repeat layering until glasses are full. Chill for a minimum of 30 minutes. (Adapted from Taste of Home Magazine.)

Leonard Crowe’s Rhubarb Custard Pie

Serves 8.

Enough pie crust for a 9-inch two-crust pie, homemade, from a mix or otherwise

FOR FILLING:

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons milk

¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

4 cups diced rhubarb

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pie crust and line a pie pan with one layer. Beat eggs slightly and add remaining ingredients, except butter, and mix thoroughly. Pour into pan and dot with butter. Cover with top crust or lattice top. Cover edge with tin foil to prevent excess browning, and bake 50-60 minutes until nicely browned. Removed foil for last 15 minutes of baking. Serve slightly warm.

Bernadette Gaspar’s Rhubarb Lentil Soup with Crème Fraiche

Serves 6.

1½ cups boiling water

¾ cup dried petite green lentils

Cooking spray

2 cups finely chopped carrots

1¾ cups finely chopped celery

1½ cups finely chopped red onion

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cups chopped rhubarb

4 cups fat-free, low sodium chicken broth

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

6 tablespoons crème fraiche

Pour boiling water over lentils in small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and add carrot, celery, onion and parsley and saute for four minutes.

Add rhubarb and saute for three minutes. Drain and add lentils. Stir in chicken broth and salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 35 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Place three cups lentil mixture in a blender or food processor, removing center of blender lid to allow steam to escape and blend until smooth. Return to pan and add pepper.

Combine chopped dill and crème fraiche in small bowl, and serve on top of soup. (Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine.)

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