Tour de Lancaster and Lititz Wrap-up

What a great group of people! I cannot say enough about the enthusiasm and curiosity of those who accompanied me on the first culinary day trip to the Lancaster Central Market and the Historic Village of Lititz. The time we spent interacting with the many purveyors, farmers, and producers of local and handcrafted products was just the perfect way to spend a day.

Our group was blessed with the passion of the Master Distiller at Stoll and Wolfe Distillery as he spun the tale of how he and his company searched out and saved an heirloom red rye from extinction. He used it to make the first batch of whiskey in more than 50 years distilled from this specific grain. The Market Manager at Lancaster Central Market enlightened us to the challenges and joys she experiences in running the oldest continuously operational Market House in the country. The owners of Olio, an independent importer of Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegars, exuded sheer joy as we participated in a tasting of their unbelievable line of products.

And the capstone of our day was the dedication and friendship the owners of The Savory Gourmet expressed to us as they hosted our After Hours tasting on the sales floor of their small specialty food store that they had transformed into an elegant but rustic restaurant. We enjoyed course after course of specialty meats, cheeses, and gourmet delights, each paired with the wonderful wines of Seven Mountains Wine Cellars. As we sat at a communal table, I could not but think what an experience this day has brought to my guests and me and how these experiences contribute to a simple life well lived.

For those of you who missed out on this trip, fear not. I am planning to schedule more in the future, along with additional forays to the Strip District in Pittsburgh and a multiday wine-tasting excursion to the Finger Lake Wine Region of New York State that is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2020. I hope to have an official schedule posted here by the first of the New Year, so please keep an eye out for this information.

As the first fire of the season crackles in my Cow Hill Cottage hearth, I contentedly pour myself a second cup of tea purchased from the specialty tea shop in Lititz Village and contemplate the many experiences to come as my guests and I explore the backroads and byways of this great country and the inspirational people we’ll meet along the way.

P.S. A special thanks to Ann Thompson for many of the photo’s you see here. And please enjoy additional photo’s below.

Reflections and Winter Gardening

Reflections
This summer, we’ve explored the satisfaction of simple but elegant cooking, preserving our seasonal bounty, and enjoying better quality, local-sourced food at a lesser cost. But there’s more: A life well lived is also a return to the lost art of simply creating. Before mass production, when living close to the earth was a given, people created out of necessity. Need a rug? Make one. Want food through the winter? Preserve it. But along with the work came a feeling of pride. I made this. I grew this. I canned this. And I’m happy I can share what I made with you. A good meal. A gift of canned goods.

A sense of community became essential, too. You grew that? I’ve grown this. Let’s get together to trade or barter or make a double batch. The Peasant Bon Vivant tours and workshops are helping to nurture this community by providing fellowship with friends or simply a fun day out or educational event in.

Through this blog, we hope you’ve tried new things, created what you’ve never created before, harvested new foods from your garden, bought fewer processed foods, and tried new recipes, and that you will want to meet like-minded friends. Friends who, like you, want more of a life well lived.

But let’s continue. Now that the eating-fresh season is over, how can we enjoy fresh, more nutritious flavors throughout the winter?

Winter Gardening
You may have noted my reference to the winter garden in prior blogs and social media posts, and many have inquired about this seemingly unrealistic concept. So, I thought I would explain in a little more detail this very simple but productive process and the types and varieties of plants I grow.

I have only recently discovered the potential of winter gardening and have been using these techniques over the past three years with varying degrees of success. My initial exposure and education came about through the works of Eliot Coleman, a Maine-based market gardener, and his two books Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. For those of you wishing to explore this subject in depth, I would recommend both.

To begin, cultivating and harvesting crops throughout winter has a long and established history in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, with its zenith reached during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this time, market gardeners throughout Paris produced the lion’s share of the fresh produce required by the city by cultivating small one- to two-acre plots.

These ingenious urban farmers used many innovative techniques to maintain the food needs of Paris. They developed and refined many winter garden techniques that allowed for the provision of fresh, seasonal, and sustainable vegetables and salad greens throughout the entire year.

Coleman’s exploration of European winter gardens, both large and small, provided the foundation for his own four-season market gardening success, which he shares through his market garden farm located near the Maine coast and in his writing and appearances at many garden and farming symposiums and conferences.

When I began my exploration of this subject, I believed, wrongly, that the success of the winter garden was based on technology that would provide the climate of summer to my winter-based plantings. The actual method, though, is based on three specific areas. The first is the use of plant varieties that are cool- and cold-weather tolerant. Second, winter gardening is more about winter harvest than winter growth with the actual growth occurring throughout late summer and fall. Third, using late-season plantings to accelerate early-spring growth for an early-spring harvest. An additional concept is planting in succession to assure the continuous availability of product throughout fall, winter, and late spring.

In the gardens at Cow Hill Cottage, I focus on plantings that will provide to me salad greens throughout late fall and winter, and late-season plantings in support of early-spring production as well. This year, I have planted beds of lettuce and salad mix that I will cut and allow to regrow for a second harvest later in the season. Also, I have planted a few Asian greens called Bok Choy and Pac (or Pak) Choi, as well as small carrots, leeks, and various herbs, including cilantro, parsley, and winter thyme. I will be savoring these throughout the winter and early spring. I have also successfully grown a few greens that the average American gardener might not recognize but are traditional within the European garden culture. These include Mache (or Corn Salad, which is the ultimate cold-weather salad green) and Dandelion, a very common so-called weed known to many of us in Pennsylvania. Many forage the wild Dandelion greens every spring in support of our traditional spring tonic meal of greens, sweet and sour dressing, boiled and browned potatoes, and fried country ham.

The cold frame is the basis of winter gardening. One can consider, also, low and high tunnels along with the root cellar storage area. Because of space limitations, my endeavors are constrained to the cold frame, where I’m still able to produce a substantial and adequate harvest.

The cold frame is a basic bottomless box constructed, in my case, from rough-cut two-by-ten hemlock lumber. In the past, I have used the same hemlock to fashion my lids or lights, but this year I have invested in new covers constructed from PVC “lumber” that can be milled. This product provides a strong, lightweight, and long-lasting component that is the key to the success of the winter garden technology.

The other two requirements of cold frame gardening are watering appropriately and venting the cold frames when needed.

Plants in cold frames need moderate watering. The moderate temperatures of late fall and early spring drive increased water consumption requiring two to three watering per week. During the colder months of November through early March, water requirements are very small or nonexistent, with a light watering needed perhaps every four weeks or so.

Cold frames need to be vented when sun and outdoor temperatures begin to overheat the interiors of the frames. One can manually prop open each lid with a short pole during the warmest portion of the day and then close the lids each evening. I have opted to invest in automatic openers for each cover that are temperature-activated and use no electricity.

This year, I also intend to produce bedding plants in the cold frames to support next spring’s plantings to include cabbage and Brussel sprouts, although tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to require indoor seed-starting techniques.

Overall, winter gardening has brought a new level of activity to my gardening endeavors and a much-appreciated harvest of fresh greens and vegetables to my table during the long, dark days of winter. I also find in winter gardening the satisfying life-well-lived activity of producing fresh food throughout the winter months.

Culinary Adventure

I am happy to announce that I will be offering my first Culinary Adventure with the exploration of the Lancaster Central Market and Historic Lititz Village on Tuesday, October 8, 2019.

Ten participants will join me as we spend the day exploring and tasting the many culinary delights that Lancaster County has to offer, including the Historic Central Market of Lancaster City and the many shops and culinary purveyors of Lititz village.

I have planned for much tasting of both food and beverages throughout the day. We’ll enjoy a tour and lunch at a historic distillery, a private tasting at an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and the charms of an English tea emporium. Also, we will tour a well-preserved 1793-era historic Lititz home as well as have plenty of time to visit the many purveyors and specialty shops that both the Central Market and Lititz Village have to offer.

Our day will end with a private after-hours specialty food tasting provided by the enthusiastic owners of a local gourmet specialty food store with wine provided by Seven Mountains Wine Cellars.

This trip will allow you to explore the rich culinary culture of this historic area of Pennsylvania and is an opportunity to stock your pantry with tasty delights in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season.

The tour will leave Reedsville, PA, at 7:00 a.m., with an anticipated return time of 9:30 p.m. that evening. The price of $150.00 per person includes transportation, all tours and tastings, lunch, and the after-hours dinner event.

Payment options include credit cards, cash, and checks with payment in full expected at the time of reservation.

I will provide ice chests to allow you to stock up on perishable market finds, and the van will allow plenty of room to store your nonperishable treasures as well.

I am looking forward to joining you in this culinary adventure and invite you to RSVP to my phone at 717-250-8334 or email at bartewing66@gmail.com.

Vegetable Gratin and Corn and Tomato Salad

The sound of rain woke me from my slumber this Labor Day morning, and as I had my breakfast on the porch to the soothing sound of rain, my thoughts turned to the garden. The showers of last evening and this morning will help nurture the garden throughout late summer and early fall, providing us with many more weeks of a bountiful harvest.

The Labor Day weekend has traditionally been thought of as the last of the summer season. But I believe that here in Pennsylvania and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region that the beginning of fall does not begin for a few more weeks. In fact, I consider the month of September a period of late summer with the gardens and markets continuing to offer up the quintessential garden treats that one associates with summertime itself. Tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, and peppers are abundant. And although not falling out of every farm stand and roadside wagon, sweet corn will be available throughout the next few weeks as well if one takes the time to search it out.

We humans like to define and relegate our lives within strict schedules and agendas. Although this approach supports our busy lives and careers, it is not the perspective of the natural world. Nature, on the other hand, has a more casual approach to the rhythmic and seasonal passage of time. And if one can integrate their modern lives into this natural progression, I would expect one will find a certain fulfillment and enhanced level of peace within this journey we call life. A simple life well lived is based on this rhythmic passage of time. So, I would suggest not to rush it, but to enjoy what the late summer season has to offer.

Below you will find two great recipes to help you enjoy the late summer seasonal bounty. The first is a very French-style Rustic Gratin that will allow you to enjoy the full seasonal flavors of summer and fall. Also, a Summer Corn and Tomato Salad, adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, features sweet corn and sun-ripened tomatoes dressed with a simple vinaigrette that allows the true flavor of these simple garden ingredients to shine.

I hope you enjoy both, and let me know which is your favorite. I hope that you and yours will join me as I savor these last few weeks of summer, the warm days and cool nights, and the best of summer flavors as we look forward to the cool days of fall and the upcoming holidays that define the year’s end.

Rustic Vegetable Gratin

This recipe is one that outlines a simple process and allows for flexibility within the context of ingredients. Please feel free to use any or all the following suggested ingredients that you may have on hand, although I believe fresh tomatoes and onions are a must.

Ingredients:

Sun-ripened tomatoes

Zucchini

Summer Squash

Onions (White, Yellow, or Red)

Garlic (Rustic Chopped)

Fresh Seasonal Herbs (Parsley and Basil are particularly good)

A Good Quality Cheese or Two

Salt and Black Pepper

Method:

Slice all vegetable approximately a quarter inch in thickness.

Butter a baking dish and, starting with onions, alternate layers of vegetables with layers of cheese, and remember to season each layer with salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs. Finish with a thick layer of cheese.

Bake covered in a 350-degree oven until a knife will easily slide through the layers, and then uncover and continue to bake until the top is golden brown and the gratin is bubbling.

Allow to rest for approximately 20 minutes before serving.

This gratin, served with good wine and perhaps some fresh seasonal fruits, makes the perfect summer meal.

Corn and Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

6 Shucked Ears of Sweet Corn

¾ Cup Small Dice Red Onion

1 Cup Cherry Tomato’s Halves

¾ Cup Chiffonade (Thinly Sliced) Fresh Basil

Dressing:

½ Cup Cider Vinegar

½ Cup Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Black Peppers

Cook the corn until tender. Cool, and cut the kernels from the cob.

Toss the corn, tomatoes, onions, and basil.

Wisk the dressing ingredients together, and dress the salad 15 minutes prior to serving.

An Italian Way With Tomatoes

As the heat and humidity of summer settle over the landscape, the vivid red of sun-ripened tomatoes begins to peek out from among the green tangle of vines. And, in my opinion, the greatest season of the year is upon us. Tomatoes ripened by the summer sun are a gift, and one must do everything required to enjoy this short but prolific seasonal delicacy. In addition to enjoying fresh tomatoes in sandwiches, salads, and the all-American BLT, you can also capture this seasonal flavor through canning. It’s a way to preserve a small but glorious bit of summer’s essence after the season passes.

My tomato preservation and canning adventures from past years have included spaghetti sauce, whole peeled, and juice. This year, I was inspired to try a recipe that I found in Honey from A Weed, the culinary cult classic penned by Patience Gray during the middle years of the twentieth century. Ms. Gray, an Englishwoman, spent her life defining not only the path of women within the workforce and single motherhood, but also identifying and establishing many of today’s culinary trends, like seasonal cooking, fresh whole foods, and elements of the farm-to-table and slow food movements. This book recounts her life living and cooking in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece and the southern part of Italy. Patience not only weaves a wonderful story of her life and culinary experiences but also documents many simple and ancient recipes and techniques that support a close-to-the-earth lifestyle.

Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared – with a flask of wine – between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.

Patience Gray

This old-world approach toward tomato preservation intrigued me, and I was not disappointed by the simple technique and the unbelievable results that it produced. Once again, quality ingredients combined with a simple approach and light hand within the context of the process results in a product that satisfies and contributes to the joy of living a good life.

I have outlined below my slight adaptation of the original recipe as recorded by Patience but believe the results will not disappoint.

Take ½ bushel of very ripe plum tomatoes. Wash them thoroughly in cool water, and place whole in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until the tomatoes are soft; then cool.

When cool, process the cooked tomatoes to remove the seeds and skins; this will produce a rather thin, pulpy tomato puree. I use a commercially available tomato processing device, but a food mill or chinois could work just as well.

Clean and sterilize glass canning jars, and place into each a slice of onion and a sprig of garden-fresh basil. Bring the processed tomato puree to a boil, and ladle into your prepared canning jars, leaving appropriate headspace. Wipe clean the rim to assure a good seal.

Process the filled and capped jars to the specification required of your canning approach—either water bath or pressure canner. Many online and print resources are available to aid you with processing times for both methods.

This ½ bushel of plum tomatoes produces approximately 6 quarts of a very fine quality tomato product that will become a pantry staple and the basis for many a delightful sauce, soup, or casserole.

When the warm, sunny days of summer fade into the cool days of fall and dismal days of winter, you can open your pantry door for a little reminder of the summer past, its goodness, and the promise of spring to come.

Cherry Pudding or Clafoutis???

A slightly cool summer morning recently found me in the garden at Cow Hill Cottage checking on the progress of the forthcoming bean crop as well as keeping the weeds at bay. The quality of the light and sounds and aromas that surrounded me transported me back to my childhood and memories of my maternal grandmother “Nan” as she was known to her grandchildren.

A talented farm wife, mother, and cook, Nan’s home was always open to welcome one and all, and her kitchen was never found to be bare of some delicious offering. This particular summer morning my thoughts were drawn to memories of Nan’s Cherry Pudding made with ripe sour cherries and served with milk and sugar, which was my grandfather’s approach to most desserts, including fruit-filled Jell-O, if you can believe it.

Nan’s Cherry Pudding recipe was passed down through her family—the Kellys—hailing from the Walnut, Nook, and Half Moon areas of Juniata County. Although I have found that the tradition of Cherry Pudding and other fruit-filled puddings to be commonplace within Central Pennsylvania, my real surprise is the origin of the recipe—a French recipe—that I came upon while researching desserts for my original restaurant some years ago.

The simple recipe that follows is a part of the food tradition of the former Limousin region of France. Known for its rich farming history and a variety of oak harvested from its bucolic forests that is used to make barrels for the aging of brandy, Limousin is located in the south-central area of France, and its Clafoutis (Kla-foo-TEE) has been a classic dessert of the region for hundreds of years.

Purist insist that a true Clafoutis is made from only cherries—and un-pitted ones at that—as they believe the pits impart an improved cherry flavor throughout the dessert. The dessert is traditionally served warm with a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar over the top as the pudding is removed from the oven. Although similar desserts are made with other fresh summer fruits, the proud people of Limousin would consider these non-cherry varieties to be a Flaugnarde (a baked French dessert resembling a large pancake) and not a true Clafoutis.

No matter what you call it, or if you subscribe to the pitted or un-pitted cherries, I believe you will agree that it is a perfect summer dessert and one of the many pleasures in a simple life well lived.

I have shared two recipes below for your enjoyment. The first is my family’s Cherry Pudding, and the second is a traditional Clafoutis. Please feel free to add to this culinary story with your comments and observations.

Cherry Pudding

Ingredients:

2 Large Eggs

1 Cup Sugar

1 Tablespoon Melted Shortening

1 Cup Milk

3 Cups Flour

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Quart Pitted Sour Cherries or Other Fruit of Your Choice

Soften butter to grease the baking dish.

Method:

Mix all ingredients and pour into a well-greased baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the pudding comes out clean.

Serve with powdered sugar or sugar and milk.

Clafoutis

Ingredients:

1 Pound of Cherries

½ Cup Sugar

1 Cup Flour

4 Tablespoons Butter, melted

1 Pinch Salt

3 Eggs

1 Cup Milk

2 Tablespoons Butter (to grease the pan)

3 Tablespoons Sugar (for the garnish)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Remove the cherry stems.

Grease a round 10-inch pan with butter and arrange the cherries.


In a bowl, cream the sugar and eggs. Then add the flour and salt. Stir in melted butter. Then pour the milk and stir to obtain a light and smooth dough. Pour the mixture over the cherries.


Bake the Clafoutis for 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with sugar as you take the Clafoutis out of the oven.

Serve warm or cold.

Come Join Me—Workshops Here and There

A simple life that is well lived means spending time engaged in enriching pursuits that give joy and provide a sense of accomplishment and well-being. My culinary adventures and cultivating the soil give me a sense of accomplishment and connection to the past as I work to master the nuances of traditional food and craft. All of this provides a deep soul-enriching experience so essential to a life well lived—as does meeting interesting people who share in my enthusiasm.

I have always wanted to develop these essential relationships through travel adventures and workshops—to bring like-minded people together as we explore the rich tapestry of life and the creativeness that makes up the warp and weft of that tapestry. That’s why I invite you to join me!

Travel Adventures
This fall, I will begin to offer day trips to local farms, wineries, brewers, and cooks. These trips will be intimate with no more than 10 guests at a time. I will also be planning trips to the larger urban areas of our state for us to experience the diverse products and purveyors at the Philadelphia Italian Market, Reading Terminal Market, and the Strip District of Pittsburgh. As we build both enthusiasm and a base of interested participants, I plan to offer longer trips to Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Hudson River Valley, and New England.

Workshops
In the near future, look for workshops that will bring together creative people to experience and explore traditional crafts, foraging, cooking, and gardening. These events will feature talented guest speakers and instructors and will allow for many hands-on activities as well as opportunities to develop relationships through shared meals and conversation; exploration of local makers, purveyors, and markets; and time to explore nature through leisurely walks, picnics, and other outdoor activities.

Again, I invite you to join me as we share knowledge and experiences and enrich relationships. I look forward to meeting many of you as we travel the back roads and byways of this great land. Stay tuned for updates and information. I promise I will not keep you waiting for too long.

The Reedsville Creamery Shakes Up the Local Milk Market

Today, I spent some time talking with Loren Kauffman, a neighbor who has recently introduced a new business to our community. The Reedsville Creamery has been a dream of Loren’s for some time, and over the past year or so, he and his family have completed the legwork required to begin pasteurizing and processing whole milk products at his family farm. You can buy white, chocolate, and strawberry flavors from local retailers, markets, and grocery stores throughout Central Pennsylvania as well as right on the farm at the farm store.

Loren’s raw milk comes from his father’s herd of cattle located approximately 50 feet from the creamery’s processing facility resulting in a quality and freshness that is hard to reproduce by other suppliers. His micro-processing facility bottles approximately 300 gallons of milk per day in old-fashioned returnable and sustainable glass pint, quart, and half gallon bottles.

The creamery’s milk is pasteurized, but is not homogenized, resulting in a heavy layer of cream that floats in the neck of each bottle, providing a blast from the past for those of a certain maturity and a great new experience for the less experienced. This layer of cream can be used for cooking, baking, or as the perfect coffee creamer. For those of you who are not interested in using the cream on its own, a simple shake of the bottle before each pour will result in a superior product that I would wager is better than any milk you have ever tasted.

Loren shared with me that the federal regulatory process to assure quality and purity of product is stringent, requiring a daily, weekly, and quarterly inspection process. He finds the regulatory aspect to be less intimidating than his early expectations. In fact, he believes the process, as well as the advice that the inspection personnel have provided throughout the development and start-up period, has been very valuable and has assisted Loren with providing an enhanced product to his customers and one that he is very proud of.

The Reedsville Creamery has plans for growth and product expansion to include ice cream, 2% milk, skim milk, and heavy cream. My favorite part of Loren’s expansion dream is to take his distribution into other regional communities using a nontraditional approach to business growth that will focus on the development of micro-processing facilities within each region, thus maintaining a local perspective and the use of local raw milk.

I have begun to use Reedsville Creamery milk not only at Cow Hill Cottage but also at Stonefly Café http://stoneflycafe.com. My staff appreciates the high quality of the product, and I am inspired by Loren’s dream of quality local dairy products that have previously been unavailable to me even though I live within a farming community with a rich history of dairy farming.

I hope that with Reedsville Creamery’s and other local food purveyor’s success, others will follow, and a diverse and robust local food community will develop in support of a simple life well lived.

Did you know?

Whole milk has only 3.5% milk fat, making it 96.5% fat-free.

A cow produces an average of 6.3 gallons of milk daily, which is 2, 300 gallons each year, and 350,000 glasses of milk in a lifetime.

The greatest amount of milk produced in one year was 59,298 pounds by a Holstein cow named Robthom Sue Paddy.

Simple Seasonal Pasta—A Non-recipe

Simplicity is often the key to perfect satisfaction, and without a doubt, a simple pasta toss of seasonal vegetables prepared with a light hand is a simple delight.

Sunday evening, while taking a late stroll through the garden at Cow Hill Cottage, I found the first sugar peas of the season hanging thick on the vine. These sweet jewels of early summer, combined with the last of the spring asparagus, was all that I needed for a perfect Sunday supper.

No recipe is required; I chopped the asparagus into bite-size bits and threw the peas and asparagus into a pan for a quick sauté in olive oil until just soft but with a slight bite remaining (al dente). Into the sauté pan I added the pasta directly from the boiling pot, al dente as well, and combined the mixture with copious amounts of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a large knob of butter, and, of course, salt and pepper.

As I sat on the porch enjoying my meal and the early summer evening, I could only reflect on how the very best of life often can be found within the context of simplicity—like a seasonal pasta in a life well lived.

What simple, tasty pasta dishes have you thrown together lately?

Rhubarb—Rooted in History, Sweetened with Sugar

This past week I spent a good amount of time traveling the byways of Central Pennsylvania as I enjoyed a week of vacation in pursuit of one of my many interests—fly fishing.

I fished a few days in the northern tier of the Commonwealth on the Pine Creek and its tributaries, Slate Run, Little Pine, and Cedar Run. During the latter part of the week, Scott Bubb, the Winemaker at Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, and I whiled away the warm spring days fishing the famous Penns Creek.

Throughout my travels to and from various fishing locations, I could not but notice the proliferation of rhubarb tucked at the edge of almost every garden that I passed. In fact, I would venture to guess that rhubarb may be one of the most popular garden plants in Pennsylvania. I myself have a large plot of it in the corner of the kitchen garden at Cow Hill Cottage.

Rhubarb has a storied history. It’s an actual lesson in human history itself within the context of mythology, natural healing, and culinary culture. First documented as a medicinal plant in China as early as 2700 BC with the root used as a laxative, it traveled via the silk road into Europe and eventually to the British Isles. Also, one cannot exclude from this discussion the view of the early Persian Culture that the human race itself sprung from the lowly rhubarb seed.

From a culinary point of view, rhubarb has a long tradition of being the basis for many a sweet dish, with Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and Stewed Rhubarb being two of the most common. But from an Eastern European point of view, it was often paired with meats and other savory dishes. In fact, the tradition of its use in sweet desserts is so ingrained in the American culture that the United States changed rhubarb’s classification from a vegetable to a fruit in the late 1940s.

At Stonefly Café, we feature local rhubarb as a unique wine produced by Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, and it’s the basis for our Rhubarb House Churned Ice Cream and Rhubarb Cream Brulé.

For those of you who want to add this storied perennial to your garden, I give you the following basic cultivation and harvest tips:

What to plant. Choose a variety that suits your climate. Ask a knowledgeable person at your local garden center or greenhouse for the best local varieties. Or, follow the long-held tradition of sharing planting materials, and ask a neighbor or fellow gardener to allow you to have a start from their plot.

When to plant. You can plant rhubarb crowns in early spring or in the fall when the roots are dormant.

Where to plant. Rhubarb grows best in climates where the ground freezes during the winter. It likes full sun and well-drained soil. Allow adequate room when planting as rhubarb plants can measure up to 4 feet wide and tall.

How to plant. Prepare a large hole, about the size of a bushel basket, and fill almost to the top with rich compost or rotted manure. Place the crown in the center and cover with 1 to 2 inches of manure and compost. Mulch with 2 inches thick of straw, compost, or shredded bark.

How to maintain. Give the plants lots of water, as this is key to producing tender stalks. Apply a generous layer of manure around the plants annually to assure a bountiful harvest, and maintain a good mulch around the base. Dig and split the rhubarb roots every five or so years while the plants are dormant in early spring or fall.

How to harvest. Give rhubarb one growing season to establish, and then begin harvesting in the second year. Once the stalks are 12 to 18 inches long, cut at the base. Leave at least half the stalks on the plant each time so they continue to add growth. The typical harvest period is 8 to 10 weeks from April through June.

My favorite rhubarb cake recipe follows, along with several tempting toppings. What’s your favorite rhubarb recipe?

Rhubarb Cake

Cake:

2 tsp Soft Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Egg

2 Cup Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Baking Soda

½ tsp Salt

1 Cup Buttermilk

2 Cup Rough Chop Rhubarb

Streusel Topping:

¼ Cup Flour

¼  Cup Sugar

2 tbsp Melted Butter

Vanilla Sauce:

½ Cup Butter

¾ Cup Sugar

½ Cup Evaporated Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Method, Cake:
Cream Butter and Sugar

Beat in the Egg

Add remainder of dry cake ingredients

Add the Buttermilk

Fold in the chopped Rhubarb

Fill a well-greased 9-inch square cake pan.

Method, Streusel:
Combine streusel topping ingredients and sprinkle over cake batter in pan.


Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes.

Method, Vanilla Sauce:
Combine the Butter, Sugar, and Evaporated Milk and bring to a boil, cooking and stirring 2 to 3 minutes until thick.

Remove from heat and stir in the Vanilla Extract.

Serve cake with Vanilla Sauce on the side.