It’s funny how you miss certain things, and just figure that life is different now, so you’ll probably never have them again. And then you get a text from your sweet husband, and do a little happy dance.
Let me back up a bit and set the stage for this story. I’ve been blessed with a bit of a green thumb. I’ve always liked plants, and remember having houseplants since we were first married and living in a little apartment with only two windows. When we bought our first real house, I spent the next twenty years gradually building up gardens. The house got surrounded with perennial flower gardens. Pots of annuals lined the back patio, and were filled with color from spring to autumn.
There was always a pot or two of herbs growing on the back deck. We built a vegetable garden in the back yard and grew lots of tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, squash, sugar snap peas, green beans, and whatever other plants inspired me when I visited the local garden centers. One corner of the garden contained a nice patch of rhubarb. I carefully harvested the rhubarb, never taking more than a third of the stalks from each clump. The rhubarb grew happily away and provided a harvest starting in spring, and lasting all summer long.
You might be thinking, “Rhubarb? What in the world do you use that for?” Or you may have been lucky enough to have been served strawberry rhubarb pie (which is delicious!) Or perhaps you’ve encountered strawberry rhubarb jam at a farmers market. If you have the opportunity to try either of those things, I highly recommend them. But that’s not what I made with my carefully harvested rhubarb. (Although if you have a good recipe for either of them, I would love it!) Nope, every bit of rhubarb (that wasn’t shared with family) was made into rhubarb cake.
This is no ordinary “bake it, top it with frosting, and serve it at a birthday party” kind of cake. This is a super moist, tartness in every bite, slightly sweet, “Please, can I have another piece?” kind of cake. It is not frosted or crumble topped, because there is no need. The cake itself is pure deliciousness. And when we lived in Michigan, I baked it all summer long.
And then we moved to Florida. I love living here, but have to admit that this Midwest gardener has no clue what to do in this subtropical USDA zone 10a. We bought a house that has a xeriscaped yard, no grass, no real planting beds, and honestly, not much of a landscape plan. I love the palm trees, especially the pretty date palm. And the little orange tree out back is absolutely loaded with fruit this year. But I haven’t found a good garden center like the nearby ones I had in Michigan. So we haven’t really done much with the landscape other than pull weeds and trim back the hibiscus.
This year I put forth a little bit of effort, filled some giant pots with soil and planted tomatoes, a pepper plant, two kinds of basil, and cilantro. Besides the veggie and herb plants, The Home Depot and Lowes garden centers had citrus trees. So tiny lemon and lime trees joined the orange tree in the back yard. With temperatures at ninety plus degrees F this time of year, the tomatoes and trees require daily watering, and hopefully they’ll stay alive! Sadly, it is far too hot for rhubarb to grow here. So, I had resigned myself to never having rhubarb cake again.
Well, a new produce market opened in the town just south of here. So Dan went to check it out before heading to the grocery store. And that’s when my sweet husband texted me this photo:
❤ Cue my happy dance and response to “Buy it all!” 🙂 Ok, I didn’t really want him to buy quite all of it, just a generous handful of stalks. It was a little late in the day to bake, so the next day I washed the rhubarb, trimmed off the ends and peeled it. Although rhubarb leaves are huge and interesting looking, they are not edible as they contain oxalic acid. So you definitely want to cut off and discard all of the leaf. Then I chopped the stalks into chunks and prepared to make the cake.
As a wedding shower gift (37 years ago!), my Aunt gathered recipes she had gotten from my Grandma and copied them onto index cards. The recipes are a connection to a wonderful woman that I miss dearly, and I’m so grateful to have them! You can tell when a recipe is well-loved by how worn, stained, and tattered the recipe card is. It’s pretty obvious that this is a well loved recipe! 🙂
As I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve learned to use the highest quality ingredients I can find when cooking and baking. So I’ve updated the recipe a bit to make it slightly healthier, and certainly even better tasting. I use up to 4 cups of rhubarb, because I love the extra tartness. The first time you try it though, you might want to start with just the 2 cups. I use pure cane sugar, and King Arthur whole grain white flour. I’ve never used real buttermilk, and have always used the lemon juice “cheat”. And lastly, don’t use shortening, yuck! Butter is the way to go, and I am a big fan of Kerrygold Irish Butter.
The recipe calls for baking 45 minutes, but just like baking anything else, you can tell by the delicious smell when it’s done.
That first bite of cake was so good! A flavor that seemed far away and perhaps lost forever brought back happy memories of summers past in our old home. It was a reminder that connections can be reforged, that the people, places. and things that we love and care about can sometimes back into our lives in surprising little ways.
So, the next time a new produce market opens, or you stumble across an old family recipe, take the time to wander, discover, bake, make, and enjoy! I am so grateful for this happy “find”, and for all that I am blessed with. ❤