In Praise of Rhubarb

Rhubarb means summer. Summer in the 12 year-old, off-of-school, complete freedom sense. Summer in the sleep-in, wake-to-warm-sunshine, go-play-in-the-field sort of way. When I was 12, we lived on forty acres of prairie grasses and wild flowers, bordered on two sides by a slow flowing river, which would sparkle like gold in the setting sun. We also had a garden with a gooseberry plant, an apple tree, and a pear tree. As summer closed, we could harvest all types of fruit and vegetables, but only one plant provided an unlimited snack in early summer – rhubarb. Mom gave us complete freedom to snap off as many stalks as we wanted to dip in sugar and enjoy long before anyone thought of sour patch kids.

Rhubarb

A recent article about freezing fresh food in the New York Times included a reference by Chef Tory Miller of L’Etoile and Graze in Madison to freezing rhubarb to use year round as “Wisconsin’s lemon”. That reference inspired a flurry of rhubarb creations, not the least of which was my daughter’s rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb Crumble

Another creation captured a bit of that childhood essence of summer – a rhubarb radler. Radlers are a German creation which combines a lighter beer with a fruit soda for a lower alcohol, refreshing summer drink. Typically the fruit soda is lemon, though more recently grapefruit has become popular. Why not rhubarb? We simmered diced rhubarb in water and sugar, strained the solids out and then added sparkling water. That house-made “soda” was then combined in equal parts with Hinterland White Cap IPA. If you can’t get Hinterland in your area, Blue Moon’s White IPA would work or you could select another flavorful craft IPA that is not too heavy on the bitter flavors and not overly malty. The hop bitterness in the Hinterland White Cap is beautifully bold and the rhubarb soda accentuates the floral notes. The resulting drink reminds me of a fresh ruby red grapefruit. I recommend enjoying it this way:

Rhubarb Radler

The rhubarb radler got the creative juices going. These flavors combined really beautifully, so how might we create a dish with the same profile? We marinated boneless, thick-cut pork chops in 1 can of Hinterland White Cap with 5 cloves of smashed garlic, 1/2 cup of sea salt, and 2 tablespoons of chopped oregano flowers. Fresh oregano can be substituted, but the flowers are a bit less powerful in flavor and seem to bring a somewhat floral character. The chops marinated overnight and then were grilled. We topped them with a rhubarb compote made of 1 cup of diced rhubarb and 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup more beer slow simmered on the stove. When the rhubarb softened just a bit we removed the solids, reduced the liquid down to a very thick sauce and then added back the solids for a quick compote. The dish is topped with more oregano flowers and of course enjoyed with another Hinterland White Cap.

Rhubarb compote1

The compote was sweet but the IPA added the needed complexity to hold a bit of interest. My daughters claimed they could taste the beer in the pork chop, but only after I told them it was marinated in beer. The beer flavor is subtle, but different enough to make it a bit intriguing. Overall, a very nice blend of flavors. We enjoyed these with skillet browned baby potatoes and tarragon butter green beans. It tasted like summer.

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