Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann

15 May

I am currently obsessed with azaleas.

Azaleas, Bee

Against an expanse of verdant, emerald green grass the shocking crimson, cerise and magenta bushes are my new favorite harbinger of warmer days. And to think I wasn’t even aware of their existence until Saturday.

After a dim sum brunch, Isaac and I decided we needed a bit of a walk. So we started walking, until we ran into a fence, and behind that fence were the azaleas. They’re magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, even to look where I was going. Needless to say, I very nearly walked into quite a few telephone poles.

And it’s not just me. My friend N told me she had been out biking and had the very same experience, except a bit more dangerous. She was on a bike and very nearly running into cars.

Azaleas, Robin

Where were these magnificent azaleas, you might be asking? In a cemetery. But not just any cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery. Pastoral, elegant, and only a little bit creepy, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on the rural cemetery model first made popular in Europe.

Itwas always meant to be a place where families would go for recreation, to walk around and look at the beautiful graves and to stop and have a picnic. In fact, its popularity was an impetus for the planning of Central Park.

Green-Wood Door

It’s not quite as popular a destination today as it once was, which I’m okay with, because it has to be just about the only spot in all of New York City where you can spend two hours strolling up and down hills, gawking at birds, smelling the flowers, marveling at the blueness of the sky and the sweetness of the wind while only running into about five (living) people.

Stained Glass, Reflection

But it’s not all just beauty and peace. Green-Wood contains the location of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, the first battle of the U.S. army, and the first battle lead by a young general, George Washington.

It was the Battle of Brooklyn. At the top of the hill where skirmishes were fought, in commemoration of the lives lost, stands Minerva, forever saluting her sister the Statue of Liberty down in the harbor.

Minerva, and if you look just under her right shoulder, you can just barely make out the cruise ship the Queen Mary 2

Green-Wood is also a birder’s paradise. It is known as a pit stop for a wide variety of migratory birds, as well as for its immense and varied population of locals. But, like so many places in New York, it is most famous for its immigrants. In this case, immigrant parakeets.

Minerva In Green-Wood

Parakeets? Oh yes. A rogue population of feral, acid green Monk parakeets live in the turrets of the Gothic gatehouse. I once went on a tour at the cemetery. We met in front of the gatehouse, and the parakeets were in such a lather over the size of our group, that the tour leader was forced to halt his remarks until he handed a megaphone.

Crazy Old Pine Tree

Upon bidding the parakeets adieu we didn’t feel quite walked enough, so we kept on walkin’ on and ended up in Propsect Park. It was such a happy, busy place. Hundreds of parties and picnics and Little League games and Frisbee tossers and creative anachronists and happy, snuffly dogs. We walked its length and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just as all the stands were shutting up for the afternoon.

Can you believe this is New York City?

This is my biggest complaint with this greenmarket, the stands sell out so quickly and close up so early. At a quarter to four there was only one stand remaining with anything other than bread, apples or cheese. Lucky for me, they had both ramps and rhubarb, so I grabbed some.

When we got home I whipped up a simple ramp risotto for dinner. It was gentle and rampy, satisfying and delicious. I saved the rhubarb for Sunday.

Green-Wood

I love rhubarb. I love its gentle, springy, somewhat azalea-like coloring and its alluring fragrance. My plan, since last year, in fact, was to make a glaze for some pork chops. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw how much rhubarb I had bought. A lot. There was no way I was going to need all that for a simple glaze. So i started pouring through my cookbooks.

Green-Wood Allium

I love pie, especially strawberry-rhubarb pie, as much as the next person, but I prefer my pie to be made by that next person. I’m just not a pie baker.

So I was looking for something different, something unusual, something that I could bring into work if I made too much of, and there, lurking in a book devoted to the seasonal cooking of the Hudson River valley, was the answer.

Rhubarb bread. Ms. Rose says it is the specialty of Mary Film of Buskirk, N.Y., who makes the bread for selling at bake sales in support of the restoration of the Knickberbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke.

Prospect Park

This is just about the easiest bread in the world to whip up, and oh my god… the smell! I wish that I could have invited you all over just so you could smell the aromas wafting out of the oven and through my house. It was beyond intoxicating. It was drool inducing.

By the time the bread was out of the oven both Isaac and I just stood next to the stove staring at it, willing it to be less than molten hot so we could tear into it.

Rhubarb Bread

Finally, it was time. We cut big, moist chunks off one loaf and tried not to bite our fingers amidst the mania induced by this bread. It is delicious. Rhapsodic. Purr-inducing. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we easily ate half the loaf, and probably could have eaten the whole thing if some part of my brain hadn’t snapped back into sanity and stopped us.

If you’ve got a friend with a large rhubarb patch, ask her for some, then bake her this. She’ll love you forever.

Rhubarb Bread

So I take it all back. I now think azaleas are beautiful, and can’t wait for the day when I can plant one in a yard of my own, but what I am truly obsessed with is rhubarb bread.

And you should be too.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Ramp Risotto and Rhubarb Bread.

Ramp Risotto

prep time: 20 minutes ~ 45 minutes

  • 2 bunches of Ramps
  • 1 piece of Bacon, very thinly sliced*
  • Olive Oil
  • 4 clove of Garlic, minced
  • Arborio Rice
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Hot Water
  • Butter
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Eggs

Cut the white heads off one bunch of the ramps. Cut off their root ends and rinse under running water.

In a deep pot, begin rendering the bacon in a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. While the bacon is getting crispy thinly slice the washed ramps and add to the hot fat. Cook a few minutes then add the garlic. Cook a few more minutes until the ramps become slightly translucent.

Add as much rice as needed to the hot fat and stir to coat. Cook 3-4 minutes until the grains of rice smell toasty and the edges are translucent. Pour in vermouth to cover and stir a few times. Cook until absorbed. Add two ladlefuls of hot water to the pot, stir a few times and cook until absorbed. Keep repeating this until the rice is fully cooked and gives off its starch.

While the rice is cooking, take a break and cut the heads off the second set of ramps, lop off their roots and rinse under running water. Slice thinly. Wash the green leaves of the ramps very well and slice thinly. When the last of the water has been absorbed, add the ramp greens and whites and a big pat of butter. Beat with a wooden spoon to bring out the lasts bits of the rice’s starch and to stir in the ramps.

At the same time, crack two eggs into a just simmering pan of acidulated water. Poach the eggs until the yolks are just set, 2-3 minutes.

Serve the risotto in bowls with a poached egg on top with lots of cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

*I have started freezing my bacon. First, this allows me to buy really good bacon and not worry about using it all in one fell swoop. Second, it allows me to hack off the exact amount I need and slice it very, very, very thinly.

Rhubarb Bread

prep time: 10 minutes ~ baking time: at least 1 hour

  • 1 1/2 c Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 large Egg or 2 very small Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 c Olive Oil or other Oil
  • 1 c Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 2 1/2 c Flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 c thin Rhubarb stalks cut into 1/2 inch pieces (if you have thick stalks, cut them in half lengthwise)
  • 1/2 c Dried Fruit or Chopped Nuts

Topping

  • 1/2 c Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Butter (use the good stuff)
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
  • big pinch of Salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, egg, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add salt and baking soda and carefully stir the flour in bit by bit. Once combined add the rhubarb and dried fruit or nuts.

Line two 9″ loaf pans with parchment. Carefully pour and spoon the batter into the pans. Make the topping and sprinkle onto the loaves. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool at least a little bit before devouring. Enjoy!

Adapted from Foods Of The Hudson: A Seasonal Sampling Of The Region’s Bounty by Peter G. Rose. This is a must own book for anyone in the Hudson River corridor.

18 Responses to “Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann”

  1. Ann May 15, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    I am so going to try your rhubarb bread! I was just reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver) and thinking of making her rhubarb crunch, but your bread totally trumps it. That risotto sounds damned good, too!

  2. michelle May 15, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    i’ll just come out and say it: i don’t like azaleas. i don’t know if i was overexposed to azaleas as a child, but everything about them screams “ordinary” to me.

    not ordinary? daylillies. also, rhubarb bread. yum.

  3. Christina May 15, 2008 at 7:29 pm #

    Oh Ann, here it is! Here is the recipe. This will be made by yours truly this weekend. I promise.

    The cemetery is beautiful. I used to wander through an old cemetery in Georgetown, adjacent to Rock Creek Park, that made me feel the same way these pictures of yours make me feel: calm, at peace with how the world works, lovestruck with natural beauty. Thanks for reminding me of that feeling.

  4. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) May 15, 2008 at 8:11 pm #

    It’s been so many years since I wandered through Green-Wood Cemetery; thanks so much for taking me back. And I’m going to have to try that rhubarb bread — it sounds amazing.

  5. ann May 16, 2008 at 6:38 am #

    Ann — I hope you like it as much as we did. It’s a nice change from the pie/crumble route :-)

    Michelle — So funny! I feel the same way about day lillies (and I’m not just saying that because I’m offended, because I’m not offended, I really just have a thing against lillies). Weird, right?

    Christina — I’ve always found cemeteries to be rather calming too. Strange… Glad to help bring you a minute of peace.

    Lydia — You’re welcome! I’m glad to know others still enjoy it for it’s excellent wandering qualities. If you try the bread, I hope you like it!

  6. Sandie (Inn Cuisine) May 16, 2008 at 8:57 am #

    I’ve never had rhubarb bread, but this recipe sounds intriguing. Becoming evermore embarrassing to admit, I’ve yet to try rhubarb anything, including strawberry-rhubarb pie (and strawberries are among my favorite things!)

    As far as the historical information you provided on Green-Wood, never has a cemetery seemed more interesting. And the azaleas are gorgeous here in Kansas City, too. We must have had ideal azalea weather this year, as some years their colors are particularly stunning when compared to others.

  7. shelley May 17, 2008 at 6:59 am #

    I always loved walking around in cemetaries, the D.C. area has a couple of really nice ones, in particular. It certainly didn’t have wild parakeets, though!

    I can’t convince Dave to let me try out rhubarb on him, and I’ve never had the opportunity to try it myself. But in a quick bread? A golden, sweet, warm-from-the-oven quick bread? There is potential, for sure!

    Thanks!

  8. Robin May 18, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    Oh I am so in your debt… my sister has a rhubarb plant in her new house… she wanted to pull it up but I begged her to keep it and that I would make her something in return. This will be perfect! Thanks, Ann.

  9. Toni May 18, 2008 at 11:17 pm #

    My mom used to make rhubarb and strawberries. She never turned them into a pie – she just served them in a bowl, and we often ate them over ice cream. But this bread? God, girl, you’ve got me salivating!

    Ann, you practically make me want to move back to New York! Your photos always knock me out – and this week you brought back memories of azaleas. We had them in front of our house growing up on Long Island. Unfortunately, they take more water than I’m willing to pour on anything out here. Instead, I’ll just drool over your photos!

  10. ann May 19, 2008 at 5:35 am #

    Sandie — I don’t think that’s embarrassing at all. Rhubarb is one of those things that I think a lot of people have become scared of for some reason. I’m glad to hear that the azaleas are beautiful in KC too.

    Shelley — You need to trick him obviously! Make the bread, say that its, oh, I dunno… watermelon bread… Then watch him wolf it down, ask him if he likes it then spring it on him that it’s rhubarb!! I’m so going to hell that one ;-)

    Robin — Oh yeah, your sister will love the bejezus out of you! I wish I’d taken some from my sister this past weekend. Oh well, next time.

    Toni — Bwahahaaha… You’ve finally uncovered my evil plan, to get you and Lydia to move back to New York. Lol, just kidding! Thanks for the info about azaleas being thirsty guys, I never would have known that. I love the idea of strawberries and rhubarb over ice cream. God that sounds good. Is it too early to eat ice cream for breakfast?

  11. Sarah May 21, 2008 at 10:30 am #

    I love your history of Greenwood, and I’m heartened to know you take walks there — and moreover, that it was planned for that purpose! I always think it would be a particularly scenic place to take a jog, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s disrespectful and more than a little moribund. But what a lovely Brooklyn day that was! Heaven to read.

  12. Julia May 21, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    this is terrific. i want to try rhubarb but didn’t know what to make with it, since pies intimidate me and i am not really into jams, compotes, etc. but bread yes! or maybe i’ll transform it into muffins for single serve eating.

  13. Christine May 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm #

    I start with my local CSA next week and I know last year they all got some rhubarb. I’ve never cooked it before and was hoping to come across a recipe for something that wasn’t a glaze or compote and would use it up. I’m not a pie maker either. Rolling is not for me. I don’t even have a rolling pin!

    Rhubarb bread – genius!

    I’ll let you know if we get some rhubarb and I make it.

  14. Virginia May 21, 2008 at 8:10 pm #

    I finally planted some rhubarb in my own yard this year (we had oodles growing up) and now I can’t wait for it to mature. And speaking of CSAs, Ann can you search the Shaker cookbooks for dandelions? The farmer keeps warning us this will be in the first box….

  15. ann May 22, 2008 at 5:49 am #

    Sarah — Ooooh! Good! I’m so glad to know you know now, that’s awesome. Thanks for the nice compliments.

    Julia — Muffins are a fantastic idea! If I had a muffin pan, I’d totally try that. If you do, please let me know how it turns out. I bet they’ll cook in a lot less time than an hour ;-)

    Christine — I am so not a roller too! I just don’t have a space big enough to roll on that I’m will to get all floury, you know? I hope your CSA comes through because, hot damn, this is some tasty bread!

    Virgina — Hi!! I’ll totally do some dandelion research for you. I’m sure I’ve got tons of recipes for it. I love a few leaves in a nice buttery salad, it kind of acts like watercress, or sauteed like you would broccoli rabe is delicious too. It’s too bad my grampa’s not around anymore or I’d ask him for his dandelion wine recipe for you too, but actually, on second thought… that one’s probably best left where it is ;-)
    I’ll email you over the weekend.

  16. marilyn cordell May 22, 2008 at 8:42 pm #

    inspired by your photograph, i asked one of my clients if i could make the rhubarb bread. she came home just as i took it from the oven and in very short order, we were cutting into the warm bread. soon, the children came home and the loaf disappeared……..then the second loaf was cut! everyone LOVED it, including the chef! the recipe is perfection! thank you……we will certainly add it to our book of favorites!

  17. ann May 23, 2008 at 5:40 am #

    Hi Marilyn — Oh that is good news!! I’m so glad. Thanks for reporting back!

  18. Erin May 8, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    The rhubarb bread looks fantastic. I have so much rhubarb that I am always looking for new recipes. Quick question though. In the ingredient list you wrote baking soda but then in the directions you put baking powder which do I use? Thanks!

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