“Mission Control to Earthlings: Volunteers needed to test Lunar Cake recipe. Only rhubarb lovers need apply.”
Rhubarb is one of those foods you either love or hate. I never liked rhubarb until a few years ago, but then my entire culinary experience consisted of a very tart rhubarb pie my mother would make for my dad once a year. We had a big rhubarb patch on the farm, and no matter how much sugar she used in the pie, it was so sour no one else would eat it. The rhubarb patch was rectangular in size and was beside a row of red currant bushes, with one black currant and one gooseberry bush at each end. Behind it, the odd spike of asparagus would appear in the early spring, these all being old-fashioned farm staples from a century ago. Today they would be considered heirloom varieties. Once established, those old rhubarb patches would live forever. I would sometimes volunteer to pick the red currants, as my dad would get his very own red current pie too. In retrospect those pies must have been something his mother had made, nostalgic reminders of childhood. We just thought they were sour.
Because the patch was so large and prolific and had been there for many years, people from town would stop by and ask if they could buy some. If you are a rhubarb-lover you always know where a good patch is. We would see the same people year after year, so one day we kids had the ingenious idea that we would have a roadside stand and sell bundles of rhubarb for 25 cents – a country version of a lemonade stand.
The rhubarb stand lasted all of one Sunday afternoon. There was little traffic on our dusty country road and we soon grew bored laying on a blanket under the big tree out front. On the rare occasion someone did stop, we would run to the house to get our parents, because we had been drilled in school not to talk to strangers, even those innocent souls out for a Sunday drive. (Makes sense right, well in the mind of a child). I think we grossed 75 cents.
Now as an adult, count me in as a rhubarb fan too. I especially love strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb scones, and most recently a rhubarb coffee cake, which I’ve made the past few years from a recipe a dietitian friend gave me. This Canadian recipe is called Lunar Rhubarb Cake and was developed by an editor of Canadian Living magazine back in the 1980’s. It was so good, it went viral before viral even existed, with everyone saying they got it from their mother, aunt, neighbor. (A recipe which promotes sharing like that, is one small step for food-kindness). According to the food column in the Ottawa Citizen, the name lunar comes from the appearance of the top of the cake, similar to the crater-like surface of the moon.
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 Tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream (you can use 2% if you wish)
2 cups chopped rhubarb (you can increase by 1/2 cup more if you wish)
1 tbsp. floor
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon (I omitted this, as in my opinion cinnamon goes with apple pie, not rhubarb)
Chop the rhubarb and toss with 1 tbsp flour. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Mix 2 cups flour, soda and salt together. (I buy the premixed flour with the baking soda and salt already in it which is more expensive but saves measuring). Alternatively add the flour mixture and sour cream to the creamed mixture. Add the rhubarb to the batter. Pour into a buttered 9 X 13 inch cake pan. Mix the topping ingredients and spread evenly over the top of the cake. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top is pitted and crusty and a skewer comes out clean. (It was 15 minutes longer for me, as my oven always cooks slow). Recipe serves twelve hungry astronauts.
Some versions of this recipe call for buttermilk or sour milk instead of sour cream. The batter will be quite thick with the sour cream.
The cake keeps well in the fridge and was incredibly moist even after a week. It transports well too, should you wish to take it to a party in another galaxy. I think it would work well with blueberries when the season arrives, because as we all know rhubarb season is way too short!
Maybe if my mother’s old-fashioned rhubarb pie had a crumble topping we might have eaten it too, as the sweetness balances out the tartness of the rhubarb, similar to the popular combination of strawberries and rhubarb. Although I’m not a huge fan of strawberry-rhubarb pie, mostly because of the pastry, I have made a compote by stewing equal parts of rhubarb and strawberries on the stove and adding sugar to taste. It’s nice mixed with vanilla yogurt or ice cream or just eaten plain.
I’ve been envisioning my own rhubarb patch in the backyard, so I bought home this last week, although it’s been too cold to plant it.
Although eaten as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. While the stalks may be edible, the leaves are toxic to humans and animals due to a high concentration of the poison, oxalic acid. It is a perennial which likes cooler climates. Plant in full sun, spacing 3 or 4 feet apart in a row. Patience is required as you can’t harvest the first few years until established. Newer varieties last about 15 years. You can also divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) in early spring, so I might be on the hunt for an old patch down a country lane….
Flash forward to 2025 – mission accomplished….hopefully?