Did you ever have that moment as a kid, when you suddenly realize that a food that you assume everyone eats is something that is particular to your family? I had that moment with rhubarb kuchen. As I recall, I was with friends talking about our favorite desserts that we would choose for our birthdays, and I chimed in, “Of course I’d ask for rhubarb kuchen!” …to which I received confused looks and general silence. Rhubarb kuchen, people! Doesn’t everyone eat that?
OK, so maybe we should run through some definitions. First, rhubarb (roo-barb): It’s a plant that basically looks like red celery. It’s technically a vegetable, but people use it as a fruit. It has a very tangy taste that, when cooked with sugar, yields just the perfect sweet/tart combination. Most often it is stewed with water and sugar. When I was a kid, my mom used to make rhubarb sauce and we’d eat it like applesauce – or we’d spread it on toast or serve it over ice cream.
Next, kuchen (koo-ken, with a gutteral sound for the second k) is a German word for cake. It could cover any number of different kinds of cakes, but in my mom’s case (German family from Wisconsin), it meant a crumbly pie crust and a custard or pie-style fruit filling. She’d make different kuchens all the time, depending on what was in season: apple kuchen, peach kuchen, plum kuchen…and the much-sought-after rhubarb kuchen.
My kids, sadly, haven’t had that much experience with rhubarb, so I made these mini rhubarb kuchens as an easy introduction. When they pressed me for what it was and what it would taste like, I came up with, “sort of like a combination of apple and strawberry pie.” This satisfied them and – no surprise here – the rhubarb kuchens were quickly demolished. And yes, rhubarb is a vegetable, but I swear I was not trying to hide anything this time.
For the crust:
1 1/4 cup sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 T. milk
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until mixture is evenly crumbly. Combine beaten egg and milk and add to dry ingredients; stir. Press dough into the bottom of 6 to 8 small greased ramekins. Set aside.
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
2 T. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Mix dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk and vanilla, and stir to combine. Add rhubarb, stir again to mix. Pour rhubarb mixture into prepared crusts. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
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Looking for rhubarb? You’re most likely to see it in the spring at farmers’ markets or well-stocked produce aisles. We bought ours from our local produce shop Grow. As always, if you don’t see it, ask your produce manager. (Let’s create a wave of demand for rhubarb!)