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Beatrice Ojakangas column: Recipes highlight star of Rhubarb Festival

Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Meringue Pie, Rhubarb and Caramelized Onion Pickles and more.

Rhubarb Meringue Pie on plate with scoop of ice cream
Rhubarb Meringue Pie.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas
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The Rhubarb Festival will not be as big and splashy as it used to be. It will happen at the Stella Maris Academy on the Holy Rosary campus, 2802 E. Fourth St., Duluth, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 25. Last year, the event took place at the Coppertop Methodist Church. Years before COVID, the event had grown enormously at the campus of First Lutheran Church.

Then COVID hit. COVID put a damper on just about everything. Except rhubarb. It just kept growing.

Now, the festival is back, but not bigger than ever. The rhubarb, however, is as juicy and tasty as ever — and the need for money for the community it serves is as big as ever. Rhubarb pie, rhubarb juice, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb lemonade — just to name a few things that will be offered again. We are making fewer pies — only 250 instead of 500-plus as we did before — and they will be as delicious.

I can’t help but remember Steve O’Neil, who planted the seed of the idea to start a festival here in Duluth, more than 15 years ago. He likened the profusion of the rhubarb to the profusion of the people in need. So it began. We had many churches and their congregations involved and it was wonderful to work together. The profits all went to support people in need. After expenses, we were able to clear upward of $50,000.

If you have rhubarb to cook with, I am offering some ideas here.

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Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Meringue Pie

Rhubarb Meringue Pie on plate with stalks of rhubarb next to plate
Rhubarb Meringue Pie.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

  • (1) 9- or 10-inch unbaked pastry shell
  • 4 cups unpeeled rhubarb, diced
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Sweetened whipped cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Fit the pastry shell into a deep, 9-inch pie pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the rhubarb, better, cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups sugar, salt, flour and egg yolks.

Put the egg whites into a medium-sized bowl and hold at room temperature.

Turn the rhubarb mixture into the pastry lined pan and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer until rhubarb is cooked. Remove the pie from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, whip the egg whites and frothy and gradually beat in the reserved half-cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Return the pie to the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until the meringue is delicately browned.

Cool the pie. Serve with dollops of whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Baked Pie Plant

Rhubarb, or “pie plant,” is the unsung hero of American cooks, an effortlessly grown fruit that offers its thick, juicy stalks from spring through June, at least in our area. The advice from an old American cookbook, “The New Buckeye Cookbook,” is that the stalks should be baked in a deep pot with a cover using “a teacup of sugar to a quart of pie plant.” I like to add a chunk of fresh ginger to the rhubarb, and if I don’t have fresh ginger, a pinch of dried ginger powder. It is good topped with cream before serving.

  • 4 cups rhubarb, cubed into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 1-inch, or half-teaspoon dried ginger

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and ginger in a 1 1/2-quart casserole or bean pot with a cover. Cover and bake for 1 hour, until the rhubarb is stewed and soft.

Serve warm.

Makes about 6 servings.

Rhubarb Crisp

Here’s a favorite from the Rhubarb Festival.

  • 6 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger
  • Dash salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly butter a 1-quart shallow casserole. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Turn into the casserole dish.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, butter and nuts to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the rhubarb in the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crumbs are crisp.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Makes 6 servings.

Pan-Roasted Chicken and/or Pork Chops With Rhubarb

Roasted Ribs and Rhubarb in skillet with loaves of bread on side
Roasted Ribs and Rhubarb.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

This recipe might seem strange to you, but the rhubarb roasted with onion and seasoned with curry powder makes a great accompaniment to roasted chicken legs, thighs and pork ribs. If you wish, you might want to serve either the chicken or the pork ribs, instead of combining them: four small, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, or eight chicken legs, or four pork chops, patted dry, about 1 1/2 pounds for four servings.

  • Salt and pepper
  • All-purpose flour for dusting
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth or white wine
  • About 4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
  • About 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • About 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, basil or other fresh herbs, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Season the chicken pieces or pork chops with salt and pepper and dust with flour.

In a shallow, lightly greased, ovenproof casserole, combine the onion, garlic, curry powder, chicken broth and rhubarb. Arrange the chicken or combination of chicken pieces and pork chops on top of the onion and rhubarb mixture. Drizzle with olive oil or butter.

Roast for 30-35 minutes until the pork chops, chicken or combination are cooked through.

Sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Roasted Ribs and Rhubarb in skillet next to plate of ribs and corn on the cob
Roasted Ribs and Rhubarb.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

Rhubarb and Caramelized Onion Pickles

Then, you can turn rhubarb into pickles!

This is a refrigerator pickle recipe, ready to eat in 24 hours. They keep, covered and refrigerated, for several months. The rhubarb does not turn mushy because it is not cooked, but makes a wonderful condiment for hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. The flavor, because it is lemon-like, goes well with fish and seafood, too.

The following preparation goes in three sections: First, you combine the rhubarb with the salt and let it sit. Meanwhile, you caramelize the onions, then you make a hot syrup of vinegar and seasonings. Last of all, you combine them all together. (Note: you might take this on as a rainy day project.)

Rhubarb mixture:

  • 1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons non-iodized salt

Caramelized onions:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2-3 cups sweet red onion, diced (about 3 onions_
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Vinegar syrup:

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup cranberry juice
  • Juice and zest of 1 large orange
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

In a large glass, plastic or stainless bowl, combine the rhubarb and salt. Set aside for 1 hour.
In a heavy pan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil and the onions. Cook, stirring, until the onions are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Sprinkle the cranberries over the onions; set aside to cool.

Combine the vinegars, sugar, cranberry juice, orange juice and zest. In a saucepan, add the jalapeno pepper, ginger and cloves and heat to simmer.

Combine the rhubarb, onions and cranberries in a large, non-reactive glass or plastic container.

Pour the syrup over and cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Rhubarb beverages

I have long been an advocate of the Finnish steam-process juicer. It is great for all kinds of fruits and berries that you might have on hand in excess. Rhubarb is a perfect candidate because when we have rhubarb growing, often you have more than can be consumed. When rhubarb grows old in the garden, it gets woody and is not juicy anymore.

So, to preserve rhubarb juice, I like to use the juicer that produces juice so hot it can be hot packed in jars quite easily. The juice is so much fun to use. Generally, I sweeten the juice with a half-cup sugar per quart of juice. You might want to alter this amount to suit your taste.

For a refreshing drink: Pour lightly sweetened rhubarb juice over ice cubes in a glass. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Punch: Mix rhubarb juice half and half with ginger ale or lemonade.

Rhumosa: Mix rhubarb juice half and half with champagne (a celebratory drink).

Rhutini: Mix with gin or vodka, shake with ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with a strip of rhubarb.

Rhubarita: Mix rhubarb juice with tequila. Pour over ice cubes and garnish with a slice of fresh lime.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at  beatrice-ojakangas.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
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