Rhubarb Muffins

It’s rhubarb season for those of you who are fans of this tart seasonal favorite. Two years ago, I posted a recipe for Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake, (recommended for hungry astronauts) and at the end I mentioned that I had just planted some rhubarb. Two years later I have enough of a crop to make my own rhubarb treats. I’ve already harvested twice this year as it got off to an early start and I was able to share some with the neighbors,

and make rhubarb scones.

In that post I also reminisced about our large rhubarb patch on the farm and how it had been there for decades.

Family dogs guarding the rhubarb patch on a lawn sunny with dandelions.

Recently I found the photos of when we set up a rhubarb stand at the end of the driveway under the shade of a big tree.

Four salesmen plus 2 cats and a dog – I’m the blonde beside the dog.

We had a big homemade sign advertising our wares, 25 cents a bunch, similar to this one. It was a quiet country road, so we didn’t have many customers, just a few people out for a Sunday afternoon drive. The profits ($1) were spent on penny candy.

This is making me nostalgic for our dog, King. He was a blonde border collie, (not a Lassie dog like the TV show which was popular at the time but the same color), and I’ve never seen another dog like him since. He wasn’t a cuddly dog, a pat by a stranger was barely tolerated. He was a working dog. His job was to fetch the cows from the back field if they hadn’t come up at milking time (my dad had a dairy farm) and to supervise the children. He was very protective of us, and could be found wherever we were. He could tell time too, as my mother said he would sit at the west side of the house at 3:30 every day like clockwork and wait for the school bus. He was an outside dog and slept in the doghouse or in the barn if it was very cold. One of my earliest memories was of going to pick him out, (I was four) and he died fifteen years later when I was first off to university. He was replaced by the black and white border collie (Shep) in the picture above who was the dumbest dog ever. He was also an outside dog, but the white Samoyed (Ruff), my mother’s empty-nester pet, was allowed inside the house as were later a succession of Golden Retrievers (Fergie, Murphy and Co), who were friendly but annoying in the fact they needed endless attention. I’m also feeling nostalgic about those big old trees which used to line the country lanes before they were all cut down to widen the road. Many farms had horses out in the fields so a drive in the country was a pleasant and scenic experience on a Sunday afternoon.

Enough of the memories, back to the rhubarb, as you must be hungry by now. Today’s recipe is for Rhubarb-Walnut muffins, which I adapted from a local magazine. When I say adapted, well you know I sometimes don’t follow a recipe exactly, with mixed results…

The Ingredients:

I didn’t have any buttermilk and while I know you can sour milk by adding lemon or vinegar I didn’t have any baking soda either, so I just used plain milk and my premixed flour with the baking powder already in it. I halved the recipe, as what do I need with 2 dozen muffins when we’re in month five of lockdown. I also microwaved the diced rhubarb to soften it as I didn’t think it would cook in the 25 minute baking time.

Beat the brown sugar, oil (I used butter), vanilla, egg and milk with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix by hand until just blended. Add the rhubarb and walnut pieces.

Here’s where things got interesting. The batter seemed too runny so I added some more flour, and not quite sweet enough, so a bit more sugar. Just a few tablespoons, nothing measured, but I still only got ten muffins not twelve. Spoon into muffin tin.

Sprinkle the melted butter/sugar/cinnamon mixture on top.

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

They certainly looked pretty and turned out okay, but not great. But then I compare everything to my Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake, which is moist (from a whole cup of sour cream) and has a nice contrast between the sweet topping and the tart rhubarb. I found this topping skimpy and it had too much cinnamon plus I missed the brown sugar. I liked the chopped walnuts, as I’ve never added those to muffins before. The rhubarb sort of disappeared, not sure if I nuked it too long before hand and it disintegrated, or there just wasn’t enough of it. Next time I would add more rhubarb, and maybe some strawberries. They were better with some strawberry jam. I tend to be fussy with my food, but I gave some to my neighbors and my grass-cutter and there were no complaints.

Nice with a cup of tea on the deck during a gardening break.

The rhubarb patch is experiencing a third wave so after I have my cholesterol re-checked, (it was a spur of the moment decision so I didn’t fast, but we have been eating very well over the past year), I may make the Rhubarb coffee cake again. Muffins are portable, but that cake was great!

(949 words, about 700 if you eliminate the stuff about the dogs, kind of makes up for last weeks 3000 essay on LLM…..)

Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake

Rhubarb

“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.

Rhubarb patch (6)

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.  

rhubarb and dogs (5)

Luckily we had our guard dogs to protect us and the rhubarb patch!

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.   

Rhubarb

CAKE INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

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  

LUNAR TOPPING:

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)

DIRECTIONS:   

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.  Rhubarb

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. 

Strawberry-rhubarb compote

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.   Rhubarb plant

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? 

Rhubarb