Rhubarb baffles me every spring. I can’t help it. Those little wrinkly leaf heads start creeping up out of the ground, looking a crowd of vegetal aliens, and I always doubt that they’ll grow into something with gorgeous fuchsia stalks and big, elephant-ear leaves. It just doesn’t seem possible.
Lucky for rhubarb (and late bloomers like me, I guess), time unfurls and beautifies things in a way no chemical can. In my garden, I wait to snap stalks out of the ground until the elegant, baffley leaves are totally splayed out, because that’s what I’d want someone to do if they were picking me. Time’s not always an enemy.
The thing about rhubarb is that while it always tastes beautiful – bright and sunny and tart in all the right ways – it doesn’t always look so great when it’s cooked. Have you noticed? In pies and tarts, it’s usually all covered up, because when you heat it, the fibers separate into unattractive little shards, and it turns a tawny reddish color that’s awfully disappointing after the shocking vibrancy of the fresh stuff. You might say this here is a food with a complexion problem.
The other day, I decided to give it a little makeover. I started by chopping about a pound of rhubarb, then melted it in a pot with Pink Lady apples and a touch of cranberry juice, for a little extra color. The pieces melted into a chunky sauce that tasted terrific, with just the right amount of sweetness, but was, shall we say, artistically challenged. So I whirred it up. Out came something much more elegant – a silky-smooth, pretty pink sauce with the punch of rhubarb but none of its unfortunate textural issues.
The problem is, no matter what you do to the stuff, the word rhubarb itself is still sort of ugly. It sounds blobby, like it belongs in the same family as words like grub, or blotter, and maybe bulbous. No matter how gorgeous, it would be hard to convince me that applesauce with bulbous tastes good.
Rhubarbsauce. Now why didn’t I think of that sooner? It sounds much more delicious.
Tainted with cranberry juice and just the right amount of sugar, this rhubarb-rich applesauce is great stirred into yogurt, slathered on pancakes, spooned warm over ice cream, or eaten straight from the jar.
TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: About 1 1/2 pints
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1 pound Pink Lady apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then cook over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and let cool, then puree in a blender. Serve hot or cold.