I made Rhubarb Jewel Cake this weekend. It’s a seasonal favourite, and I delight in the annual tradition of making – and eating it – in for a few reasons.
The first is simply that it’s delicious and easy to make – a winning combination. But I also love it because it was written by a friend and former colleague at Edible Vancouver and Wine Country, Claire Livia Lassam, who has gone on to open Livia, the sweetest little bakery in my East Vancouver neighbourhood. Making it reminds of how good it was to be part of the wonderful team that created something beautiful and sent it out into the world every two months.
I also love this recipe, pasted below, because Ben and Lila made it for the Better Together cooking challenge one year (an annual tradition as well; they’ve submitted a cooking video to this competition, designed to encourage families to cook and eat together, every year for a decade). Part of this ritual involves re-watched all of the videos they’ve made over the years, beginning when Lila was two adorable years old (seriously – look at this little muffin!). They make me laugh and cry every single year. I think the Rhubarb Jewel Cake video was the first where I was allowed an appearance.
Of course, the other reason I love Rhubarb Jewel Cake is that I get to harvest rhubarb from the garden! I grow mine in part-sun, smack-dab in the middle of my front garden, because I happen to find rhubarb a dramatic, beautiful plant worthy of the perennial border. And, as I recently mentioned, my front yard is desperately in need of some attention. Thankfully, rhubarb is fine with neglect.
How to grow rhubarb
Rhubarb is a dramatic, beautiful plant worthy of the perennial border.”
Rhubarb will be fine without any help from you, but appreciates an annual top-dressing (2 inches or so spread around the plant’s root zone) of compost or manure.
Rhubarb is possibly the most popular and easy-to-grow perennial vegetable (yes, vegetable!) resisting pests and scoffing at temperatures well below freezing.
Buy rhubarb crowns (one-year-old plants) at the nursery or farmer’s market, and ideally plant in full sun, in rich, well-drained soil. Don’t harvest any stalks the first year; give the plant a chance to get established. In subsequent years, harvest up to half the stalks by twisting them off near the base of the plant. Never eat the leaves; they’re poisonous!
How to grow rhubarb in a container
Like many perennials, rhubarb prefers to be planted in open ground. However, if containers are what you’ve got, here’s how to make them work:
- Choose the largest container you can manage (minimum 24″ diameter x 24 deep”). Ensure it has a drainage hole.
- Choose the best container soil you can afford, and amend it with a good, balanced (e.g., 4-4-4) granular organic fertilizer.
- Top dress, or mulch, your plant at least annually, spreading a 2-3″ layer of compost or other rich organic matter over the soil surface. Mixing some more granular organic fertilizer into your mulch at this time would also be a good move. Mulching provides valuable nutrients while slowing evaporation: a nice bonus for thirsty containers.
However you grow – or eat – rhubarb, this is a good time to relish simple pleasures like homegrown and homemade food. There is comfort in the familiar. There’s assurance in knowing that some things – like rhubarb jewel cake – will always be nourishing and good. These days, I’m finding a small measure of balance in rituals like these. The daily bike ride with the kids. The 7 pm cheer for healthcare workers. The Sunday morning pancakes. Create your own rituals, for sure, but please also try this jewel cake and make it part of your spring celebrations.
Rhubarb Jewel Cake recipe
I make this, my favourite rhubarb recipe, by Claire Livia Lassam for Edible Vancouver and Wine Country, every year. This is a rustic and simple cake that’s not overly sweet, which makes it perfect both after a light spring supper or as a brunch treat.
Claire writes, “This cake, which can be made in one bowl, without a mixer, has a rich crumb and sweet nutty flavour that lends itself to nearly any kind of fruit.” While I’ve never tried, I imagine this would be heavenly with plums and other stone fruits.
1/2 cup (120mL) butter, softened
1/2 cup (120mL) white sugar
1/2 cup (120mL) honey
1 Tbsp (15mL) vanilla extract
1/3 cup (80mL) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (80mL) rye flour (I used light rye)
1/3 cup (80mL) almond flour
1 tsp (5mL) baking powder
1 1/2 cups (375mL) rhubarb, cut into 2-inch lengths (I peel off any really gnarly strings)
2 Tbsp (30mL) coarse sugar (I forgot this last time, and the cake was just as good. Feel free to skip if you prefer a less-sweet dessert.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour the sides of a 9-inch round pan.
Cream together the butter, sugar, and honey. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the vanilla. Sift in the flours and baking powder, and stir until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Place the slices of rhubarb in concentric circles on top of the cake. Sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake until an inserted skewer comes out with only a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes.
Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
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