So sorry, rhubarb.
You shouldn’t take it personally, you know.
But people tend to either love or hate you. Take Francesca Bowman, pastry chef at the Old Port Sea Grill in Portland, who loves you because she has fond childhood memories of peeling your long, red stalks and dipping you in sugar.
Others, like Patrick Morang, the beverage director at David’s in Portland who makes creative rhubarb cocktails, see the flip side. There, haters sound much like a Dr. Seuss character who won’t touch green eggs and ham. “Some people will be like, ‘I hate rhubarb, and I will not drink that drink,’ ” Morang said.
If you’re one of those who has never cared for the tart, vitamin C-packed plant, consider giving it another try. Local chefs are doing some interesting things with rhubarb this year that go way beyond the pedestrian strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Justin Walker, the chef at Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, is making a salsa verde with pickled rhubarb, pickled green tomatoes, ramps, fennel and nepitella, a type of mint. Brant Dadeleares, the pastry chef at Fore Street in Portland, is making rhubarb lime sorbet, rhubarb and white chocolate trifle, and a rhubarb shortcake with whipped sweet cream and Meyer lemon ginger ice cream. And the East Ender offers a rhubarb and apple doughnut during brunch.
At Five Fifty-Five in Portland, chef Steve Corry is serving a “foie” berry shortcake made of Hudson Valley foie gras and rhubarb gelee in a tart-shaped shortbread crust, with dehydrated strawberry “chips” and strawberry-balsmic vinegar.
Grace in Portland recently added a rhubarb pie, made with whipped brie, graham cracker and white chocolate crust, coconut, crimson berry and lime.
Don’t forget cocktails. Art in the Age Spirits makes a Rhubarb Tea, an organic liqueur that contains all kinds of botanicals, including beets, carrots, cardamom, coriander, lemons, pink peppercorn and vanilla. Morang is making his own version of the tea this year from a rhubarb plant in his bosses’ garden. He mixes it with a raspberry lemonade.
Francesca Bowman likes to poach rhubarb for the rhubarb hibiscus crepes she serves at Old Port Sea Grill.
“I love rhubarb,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things. I grew up in Maine and it grew in my backyard, so I’ve been eating it since I was a child. But also after a long winter – you’re stuck with citrus most of the winter – to get something like rhubarb, it’s like ‘Oh, OK, summer’s coming.’ ”
Bowman first makes a simple syrup by combining one cup of water with a cup and a half of sugar. She brings that to a boil, along with 10 hibiscus flowers (available at specialty stores), and sometimes some ginger or pink peppercorns. Then she pours it over the rhubarb, cut diagonally. The extra sugar in the syrup will help keep it thick when the rhubarb releases its water. She lets the mixture cool, purees it and puts it in the refrigerator.
“The next day, once it’s nice and cold, I use it on ice cream,” Bowman said.
It’s also good on shortcake as a substitute for strawberries. And sometimes, Bowman said, she puts the pureed rhubarb in a dehydrator and makes strings out of it to top her peach tart tatin.
At Rosemont Market & Bakery, they’ll be making lots of “rhubarbecue sauce” and rhubarb chutney this year. Kitchen manager Erin Lynch says she also uses rhubarb in place of tamarind in curries. “It has that same puckery tartness,” she said.
The Rosemont bakers will make rhubarb compote for their fruit focaccia and mixed rhubarb with sweet cheese for pinwheel pastries. They also put it in bran muffins occasionally.
“When the farmers are ready to harvest all of their rhubarb, the kitchen ends up with a mountain of it, and it’s like, OK, it’s rhubarb week,” Lynch said. “Where could we put it?”