Rhubarb upside down cake is on the right side

 I love rhubarb. When I was a kid my grandmother insisted that everyone eat it every spring.

Photo by kaori nohara on Unsplash

The old wives' tale she clung to held that rhubarb thinned your blood and thin blood made it easier to get through the heat of summer. I know that was a commonly held rationale for eating rhubarb for women of her generation. 

What's far more likely is that in the northeast, it's one of the first fresh vegetables available. Rhubarb is one of those things that people either love or hate, so attaching a health benefit to eating it was a way to market it to the unenthusiastic. Some things never change.

Anyhow, the rhubarb I used to eat at her behest was always rhubarb stewed with a lot of sugar, and we always ate it like that --as a side dish with supper. For reasons I'll never understand, it was never used as a dessert in my childhood home.

Boy oh boy were we missing out.

The same oxalic acid that gives cooked rhubarb its zing also makes it poisonous when raw, so never eat the stuff if it's not fully cooked. And while I'm at it, never eat the leaves.

If you're in a climate where it grows, consider yourself lucky and grow some. It's a perennial and so far as I'm concerned it's a springtime gift that goes on giving forever. Growing rhubarb is simple. Put it somewhere it likes and you never need to worry about it again.

One of my favorite writers, Aaron Hutcherson of the Washington Post, is another big fan of the 'barb. A week or so ago he posted a rhubarb upside down cake that I had to make. His was good but the second time I made it I shifted it around some and it was better. Here goes:

  • 170 grams butter
  • 110 grams brown sugar
  • 340 grams rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 155 grams all-purpose flour
  • 80 grams cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 200 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120 milliliters buttermilk, at room temperature

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low to medium heat, melt the butter. Transfer about 1/2 cup of the melted butter to a small bowl and leave behind about a quarter of the total volume. Add the brown sugar to the remaining butter in the skillet and stir until just combined, about 1 minute; spread into an even layer and remove from the heat.

3. Arrange the rhubarb, rounded-side down, into the sugar in an even layer without overlapping, trimming the rhubarb as needed to fit. 

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post
food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cardamom, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda until combined.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until well incorporated. Whisk in half of the flour-cornmeal mixture. Add all of the buttermilk, stirring until the batter is smooth. Add the rest of the flour-cornmeal mixture, stirring until it disappears into the batter.

6. Stir the 1/2 cup of reserved melted butter into the batter in two to three additions, fully incorporating each new addition before adding the next. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the skillet and spread it evenly.

7. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post
food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Let the cake cool in the skillet for 15 minutes before inverting onto a serving platter. You want to do this while the cake is still warm so it does not stick. Let cool for at least 30 minutes or to room temperature before cutting into wedges and serving.

See? Easy!

Rhubarb and cardamom go together fantastically and were it not for Mr. Hutcherson, I would have never thought to combine them.

If you are not away of Aaron Hutcherson, please look him up. He's a great food writer with a terrific story of how he arrived in the food world and he has an approach to cooking I really admire.