Rebecca Tuttle’s rhubarb haul, waiting to be turned into cake. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Tuttle

I have always loved rhubarb. When I was a kid, that tart, juicy burst of flavor from a freshly pulled stalk was a sure sign that the long winter was finally over.

I grew up on a farm in New Hampshire that had been in my family since the 1630s. Nobody knew who had planted the original rhubarb crowns or what variety they were. The stalks we grew on our farm were thick, tender and brilliant red.

My mom would chop them into chunks and cook them slowly on the woodstove with a little water and a little sugar, and we’d pour the warm sauce over vanilla ice cream. She never made pies; she was busy every day managing our family’s farm stand.

Ours was a family business: my father grew the vegetables, and my mother sold them, from a converted barn by the side of a busy road.

They had opened the stand, Tuttle’s Red Barn, in the mid-1950s. In those days, buying fresh produce directly from a farm was a rarity. We developed a reputation for selling fresh, clean, delicious vegetables. People came from neighboring towns and from miles away to buy them. Life Magazine, in 1971, featured the story of our farm and family.

One Saturday in early June, the height of rhubarb season, a favorite customer of mine came in. She said she was making rhubarb cakes for a party and bought an armload of it.


“Rhubarb cake?” I asked. I’d never heard of making cakes with rhubarb – only pies or sauce. “Yes! It’s delicious! Would you like the recipe?”

I’d just turned 20, and nobody had ever offered to share a recipe with me. Feeling very grownup, I said I’d love to have it.

A customer of Rebecca Tuttle’s family’s farm stand gave her this recipe for rhubarb cake when she was 20 years old, and she’s made it ever since.

She brought the recipe, handwritten on a piece of notebook paper, a few days later. I baked my first rhubarb cake that night, and I’ve never failed to make at least one every spring since.

When our farm had to be sold 40 years after that day in June, I trespassed onto what had been my family’s land for 12 generations.

Armed with a shovel and a bushel basket and fighting back tears, I dug up a few rhubarb crowns. I took them to my cousin’s farm, where he planted them in his rich Maine riverbottom soil.

My son’s birthday is May 4. That’s the day I always, every year, pull the first ruby-red stalks and bake him this cake. Whichever of our farming forebears planted those first few crowns of rhubarb would be proud, I think.



4 cups diced rhubarb
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Scant 1/4 cup sugar for topping

Mix rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar in bowl and let stand while mixing batter.

Cream butter with 1 1/4 cups sugar. Add egg and mix well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Mix in vanilla, then rhubarb mixture.

Spoon into greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top for a a crunchy, shiny crust. Bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for one hour, or until done.

If strawberries are in season, mash some up and serve on top of the warm cake.

Rebecca Tuttle of Shapleigh always makes rhubarb cake this time of year. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Tuttle

MEET THE COOK, Rebecca Tuttle

Rebecca Tuttle grew up in Dover, New Hampshire, and was among the 11th generation of Tuttles to run what’s known as America’s oldest family farm. She lives in Shapleigh and works at her cousin’s business, Riverside Farmstand and Greenhouses in North Berwick. Her writing has been published in Yankee Magazine and New Hampshire Magazine.

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