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Rhubarb and radishes? Really!

May 14th, 2010 | Category: Cooking

by Mark  G. Wright

I was just a kid when I met rhubarb. I remember my grandmother bringing the long, pink and red stalks of fresh rhubarb into her kitchen. She put them on the counter in that wonderful basket she always had on hand, that carried her freshly picked fruits and vegetables from the family’s farm, or from the neighbor’s. Within minutes of her bringing the produce into her kitchen, she would cook or bake something. And it was always delicious.
Each spring, for me, rhubarb signaled the sign of spring. It was not the warmer temperatures, the fiddleheads popping up or the birds chirping, it was the beautifully colored long rhubarb, and Grandma’s (Maw-Maw as I called her) great rhubarb treats. And when the season progressed enough in time for fresh strawberries, she baked the finest strawberry-rhubarb crumb pie I have ever tasted, to this day.
Our Pacific Northwest climate makes for a first batch of rhubarb in the spring, followed by a second harvest between June and July, the perfect time for mixing with strawberries. Of all the fruit combinations for a pie, strawberry and rhubarb – sweet and tart – is by the far the best, in my opinion.
Fresh rhubarb can be pink, red, or even yellowish in color, and the stalks should be heavy and crisp, with shiny skin (the skin holds a lot of the flavor). If the rhubarb feels rubbery or dry to you, move along, this is not fresh. I have found that with rhubarb, the more red color means a more tart concentration.
To prepare it, you’ll want to wash the stalks well and trim off the ends and leaves. Be sure to rid of the leaves, do not eat them, as they contain a potent toxin. Most farmers prepare the rhubarb by cutting the leaves and bundling the stalks. If you need to store any cut rhubarb in the fridge, wrap in lightly in plastic and place in the crisper drawer.
Rhubarb makes for a great jelly, jam or sauce, and as an addition to pork or poultry meals. It thickens when cooked, and makes for rich flavor. On a side note, if you have fresh rhubarb – homegrown or from a local farmer – try dipping rhubarb in honey or sugar. Makes for a great simple snack!

Radishes, another item that may not look appealing but very much is, has great taste (a mild to peppery flavor), color and crispness. My grandmother made great snacks with these as well, and I have always enjoyed them as a side dish, appetizer or adding into salads. Closely related to mustard, radishes offer great health benefits, as they are loaded with vitamin C. A good radish should be of bright colored skin, blemish-free with short, bright green leaves and firm texture.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 tblspns all-purpose flour
1 tblspn cornstarch

1/2 tspn cinnamon
1 tbslpn vanilla extract
3/4 – 1 pound fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pint fresh strawberries, halved
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup quick-cooking or rolled oats
1/2 cup cold butter

Beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, flour, cornstarch and cinnamon and vanilla, and mix well. Fold in rhubarb and strawberries. Pour the batter into the pastry shell.
For the topping, combine flour, brown sugar and oats in a bowl, and using your hands, cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the pie. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees for 35 minutes. When done, pie should be golden brown and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with ice cream if you like!

Rhubarb Bread
1 3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup sour milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tblspn vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup diced fresh rhubarb
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tblspn butter

Mix first nine ingredients together, well. Grease and flour two loaf pans, pour batter about 2/3 full. Mix together nuts, sugar and butter, and spread crumbly topping on each bread. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, or until done.  Serve sliced. Spread on rhubarb jam for added flavor.

Radish Garlic Onion Dip
6 radishes, quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small red onion
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

In a food processor, finely mince radishes, garlic and onion. Add cream cheese, and blend well. Chill until serving. Serve with sliced fresh vegetables, crackers or cheese.
Radish Chips

about 8-10 radishes, depending on size
1 tspn chili powder
1 tspn garlic salt
1 tspn paprika

Slice radishes into thin chips, and steam for 5 minutes. Mix spices in bowl, and add radishes, coat well.Bake on sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn the chips and bake 10 more minutes.  Adjust the spices for a more mild or intense flavor.

Mark G. Wright lives in Skagit County with his wife and children. He enjoys gardening, cooking and fishing, and remains baffled as to why his wife bakes his grandmother’s strawberry-rhubarb pie better than he can.

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