No new drummers

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.  ~ Henry David Thoreau, from the conclusion to Walden

I love rhubarb. It is one of those things I would happily eat for three meals a day, plus as my afternoon snack, year round. And so, as rhubarb season has arrived again, I have been thinking carefully about what rhubarb recipe I might share that would blow your mind, or at least make you love it as much as I do. And all around me, there are these remarkable rhubarb concoctions being written about and eaten and thoroughly enjoyed – rhubarb with rosewater, rhubarb with cinnamon and polenta, rhubarb with crystalized ginger crumb – each more delicious-looking than the last.

So it is with a bit of sheepishness and a reminder that I am really not at all hip that I offer my contribution to the great springtime rhubarb jubilee. No exotic spices, flower extracts or crystalized anything, I’m afraid. For me, the song rhubarb is drumming on right now is that old standard about strawberries. There’s just no way around it. 

To be fair, I favor a more rhubarb-centric approach than many rhubarb-berry-recipes I know. The strawberries are just an accent flavor in these treats. For the scones I would actually have gone all-rhubarb, except it was late and Kyle was in the kitchen with me. We were cleaning up from this extravaganza when I was distracted by rhubarb stalks in the fridge – and while I chopped those stalks, he said, at least six times, “Strawberries are so good with rhubarb.” So he has an ancient drummer too I guess.

I take solace knowing that our young drummers, the very same extraordinarily loud ones who think croquet mallets pounded on screen doors are the next big thing in music, have found rhubarb with berries to be a wondrous thing. Antiquated, yes  – but sometimes oldies really are goodies.

* * * * *

Rhubarb-Strawberry Scones with spelt flour
Remember those cream scones we made last time? These are different – lighter and more spring-timey, with richness from butter but using milk instead of cream. The fruit is perfect here – not overwhelming or mushy, but definitely the dominant note. I think you could easily go all-rhubarb here, and unlike say an all-rhubarb pie, you wouldn’t have to be a rhubarb purist to enjoy it. This recipe from Midge at Food 52 got me started, but without the heavy cream mine are a bit less naughty :)  

3 stalks rhubarb
6 medium strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
8 tablespoons butter (very cold)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk (plus a few tablespoons more if needed)

Optional: egg wash, additional sugar for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Cut the ends off the rhubarb stalks, then dice them. Slice the strawberries. Toss the strawberries and rhubarb together in a bowl with the first 2 tablespoons of sugar.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and the 1/4 cup sugar. Cut the cold butter into one-inch cubes, then use a pastry blender or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture. The largest pieces should be pea-sized. Mix the fruit mixture into the flour mixture so that all the fruit is coated.

Mix the vanilla into the milk in a liquid measuring cup. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the flour and butter, stirring with a fork. A dough should form. If you need more moisture to get it to hold together, add milk a tablespoon at a time. You should definitely not need more than 3/4 cup total milk.

Once you have a dough that is moist and holding together but not sticky, pat it out into a circle and slice into wedges. Twelve makes very generous servings; sixteen is nice for both kids and adults who tend to eat two scones :) Lay the wedges out on your baking sheets, and if desired brush with an egg wash (you’ll get crispier tops, but they are also nice a little softer) and sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar.

Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the tops are crisping. Cool on racks.

* * * *

Rhubarb-Strawberry Parp Tots with Buckwheat Pastry
I know when we first made parp tots together I opted out on pastry and went more of a cracker route. But sometimes I’ll get an idea in my head, and buckwheat pastry was one of those things. We have been eating the heck out of these buckwheat waffles, and I have always loved buckwheat pancakes, and I started wondering about why I never seem to see buckwheat anything else. Surely it might be good with other flavors beyond maple syrup? As it turns out – buckwheat pastry and the tartness of rhubarb are married perfectly with a little bit of strawberry and a kiss of sugar. I used this this jam recipe to make a quick strawberry rhubarb jam – I replaced most of the strawberries with rhubarb, using about an 80/20 split. Make your own, or use one that you love. The pastry is a take on the tart and pie dough from The Art of Simple Food. I owe Alice Waters all sorts of debts of gratitude, and one of them is for her patient pastry instructions in this book. She does not pretend that tart dough is easy, but she does insist that with practice, you can get better.  

1 cup strawberry-rhubarb jam
1/4 cup ice cold water
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons very cold butter, cubed (I cut it into 1/4 inch cubes, then put the cubes in the freezer for a few minutes before beginning)

Mix the flours and sugar together (sifting is good, but whisking is fine). Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender. (I really recommend one – at least for me,  it seems to work so much better than any two-utensil or finger method I have ever tried). It is okay (per Alice!) for some of the butter to be in larger, irregularly shaped chunks. Pour half of the cold water in to the mixture, stirring with a fork until it starts to form clumps. You can add more water if needed, a teaspoon or two at a time, until your dough holds together. Divide the dough in half, form into balls, and wrap each ball in plastic wrap. Flatten the balls out into disks, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 and line two cookie sheets with parchment. If your dough has been chilling more than an hour, unwrap and let it sit for a few minutes to soften. Flour your rolling surface (Alice says it’s okay to use lots of flour! Just dust it off at the end). Roll it out into a large rectangle, then use a pizza cutter to cut into smaller rectangles to use for the parp tots. (Note: I find it easiest to roll the pastry out in a circle, as you normally would, and then to sort of straighten out the edges by just rolling one way – this seems to give me the most consistent thickness – we want it to be between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick).

Fill the parp tots with strawberry-rhubarb jam (see photo above) and use a fork to poke steam holes and crimp the edges. Once they are all filled and crimped, bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is starting to brown at the edges. Let cool on racks. Can be re-heated in a toaster oven on “light” setting – they are also quite yummy at room temperature. This recipe makes 8-10  2×3 parp tots. If you have a helper making other assorted shapes, you might get more or less …

Someone did have a slightly different drummer when making a couple of these. Can you guess which ones are from the croquet-mallet-wielding, screen-door percussionist?

* * * * *

Individual Rhubarb and Strawberry Cobbler-ishes
An easy-peasy dessert if ever there was one! Again a debt of gratitude to Alice Waters, this time for her Sweet Tart Dough, also from The Art of Simple Food. These little guys are actually not too sweet – there’s still some pucker from the rhubarb. You can add more sugar to the rhubarb-berry mixture if you’d like, but we found the tartness to be a perfect contrast for the buttery, shortbread-like topping. A big dollop of vanilla ice cream is very welcome here.  

3 stalks rhubarb, washed and diced
6 medium strawberries, washed and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup spelt flour (plus another 1/4 cup if needed)

Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter eight small ramekins (we used 4 3-inch ones, and 4 2-inch ones).

Mix the rhubarb, strawberries, and sugar in a small bowl. Let stand while you mix the pastry dough.

In your stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat together until creamy, then add the vanilla, salt and egg yolk. Mix until completely combined (a minute or so). Then take the bowl off the stand, and add the flour, a quarter cup at a time. Use a rubber spatula for stirring and folding and making sure there are no dry patches. If the dough is too damp for forming, add the additional flour as needed.

Refrigerate the dough for ten minutes. While it is chilling, spoon the rhubarb-strawberry mixture into the ramekins. (If it seems very juicy or watery, you can mix a 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch into the bowl before dividing it – we used it straight with good results).

When the dough is done chilling, form it into small patties (like pancakes) and lay them over the tops of the rhubarb-berry mixture in the ramekins (see photos). Using a sharp knife, cut an X into the center of each dough piece (to allow some fruit to bubble up).

Bake for fifteen-twenty minutes, or until just golden brown on top (the fruit should be bubbly underneath).

Serve warm or cold, straight up or with vanilla ice cream. It might be an old song, but it sure has a steady beat :)

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