Rheum rhabarbarum is the Latin name for rhubarb – in Polish it is rabarbar.
It is a plant that has its origins in China, Mongolia & Siberia – its roots survive the cold!
Rhubarb roots have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
The plant arrived in Europe via Venice in the 14th century having been brought from China along the Silk Road.
The leaves are poisonous to humans as they contain large quantities of oxalic acid and other toxins.
The stems however can be eaten safely, although they do contain a little oxalic acid but their tartness is due mainly to malic acid which is also found in sour green apples.
Rhubarb stems were first eaten in England in the 17th century.
In 1820 the rhubarb plant was taken over to the USA.
I live in West Yorkshire – just outside what is called the Rhubarb Triangle of Wakefield, Leeds & Morley – where rhubarb is grown in forcing sheds (in darkness) on a commercial scale.
I have rhubarb growing in my garden.
I have used the rhubarb to make rhubarb crumble but over the last few years I have been trying to find recipes for a rhubarb cake and have tried many from English, American & Polish recipe books and magazines.
Some recipes just used 1 or 2 stalks of rhubarb – as I have lots of rhubarb – I wanted a recipe that used more.
Some recipes used the raw stalks in a cake – I found that none of these were to my liking.
I tried using my best Polish apple cake recipe with stewed rhubarb instead of apple but found that it just did not come out very well. The cake was too soggy and raw in places because of the amount of liquid in the stewed rhubarb.
Finally after more trial and error – I came up with a recipe which I am happy to make for people and to share.
Preparing The Rhubarb
This I have found to be the most important part to making a successful rhubarb cake.
You need to prepare the rhubarb the day before you want to make cake.
I tend to make a large amount and if I do not use it all I freeze the rest.
You need around 8 large stalks if not more.
Trim the ends of the rhubarb stalks and then chop the stalk into pieces around 7cm in length.
Put the pieces into an oven proof dish and add granulated sugar – try not to use large amounts – it is better slightly tart.
Put the covered dish into a low oven – GM 2 for around an hour or so – you want it soft but not totally disintegrated.
Allow this to cool.
Now comes the part I found to be the most important – I strain the cooked rhubarb from the juice & syrup.
Put the rhubarb into a colander over a bowl and leave this for several hours or even overnight.
The juice and sugar syrup can be used to flavour yoghurt, diluted with water to make a drink or even added to pork in a slow cook recipe.
Now by just using this strained rhubarb I have found that a cake adapted from my apple cake comes out very well. I have used half the quantity from my apple cake recipe as the base and then used a drier crumble type mixture – called kruszonka in Polish – for the top.
150g self raising flour
100g butter or block margarine
40g caster sugar
1 egg yolk and 1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or water.
120g plain flour
90g butter or block margarine
60g icing sugar.
You have to use a loose bottom or spring-form tin or you will not be able to get the cake out.
I use a loose bottomed anodised aluminium cake tin which is 22cm in diameter and 8cm deep.
Grease the tin well.
First make the cake base by rubbing the butter into the flour to make crumbs then stir in the sugar.
Add the yolk and lemon juice and bring the ingredients together to form a soft dough – do not handle the dough too much. Leave the dough in a cool place for about half an hour so it is easier to handle.
Pre heat the oven to GM 4 – 180ºC.
Make the topping by rubbing the butter into the flour to make crumbs and then stir in the sugar.
Press the dough into the base of the tin.
Cover the base with the strained rhubarb.
Evenly sprinkle all the topping over the rhubarb.
Bake in the oven for around 1 hour to 1 hour & 10 minutes.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Use a long metal spatula to ease the cake from the side of the tin then place the cake on to the top of a tin can and slide the side down.
If you find the cake is not sweet enough – you can sprinkle the pieces with icing sugar – I rarely due – I like the fruit to be tart.
Tea plates are Counterpoint by Royal Doulton 1973 – 1987
Do not put the cake into an airtight plastic box as it will get soggy – better to cover it with a mesh cover.