rhubarb shortbread squares

Summer in Vermont is idyllic, there’s no question. But I will admit one thing that is a teeny bit disappointing. The fruit season takes forever to get going here. Strawberries, which I think of as a May fruit from my Illinois days, aren’t ready for picking until mid to late June. And the rest of the berries don’t even come around until July. So for a fruit pie lover in springtime here, it’s pretty much all rhubarb all the time. I was so excited when my daughter turned six months old in mid-June, that her first taste of solid food would be some uber-fresh tender summer produce from the Farmer’s Market. Imagine my dismay when I went there and saw nothing but plant starts, salad greens, and rhubarb. Spoiler alert: we gave her a banana instead, so it worked out OK.Image

Prepared well, rhubarb is actually pretty delicious, mouthwateringly tangy and so gorgeous with its pinks and reds fading into pale green. I fell in love with this rhubarb curd shortbread recipe I found on food52 a few years ago. I’ve made it tons of times and have developed my own tweaks and tricks so I’m sharing my adaptation of it here. It’s actually getting to be kind of like a game of telephone, this recipe – Rivka, who submitted it to food52, and has a terrific food blog of her own by the way, adapted it from Cook and Eat, who got the rhubarb curd recipe from Ginger Tablet. So I guess I’ve got a lot of chutzpah to think I can improve upon what all those actual food bloggers did. But seriously guys, my way is a leetle bit better. Kidding. Sort of. Not really.Image

So basically, you chop up a bunch of rhubarb and bung it in a pan with some sugar and a little water. While that’s cooking, go and make your shortbread. Throw a stick and a half of chopped up butter into your Cuisinart.Image

Have your three year-old sous chef add the flour for you.Image

Go check on your rhubarb. Whoa, a lot of juice has come out of it! Don’t worry, that’s normal. You want it to cook until it’s totally submerged, and soft enough to fall apart.

Now for the first genius part of this recipe. Spices in the shortbread. I would never have thought to combine spices like cloves, ginger, and cinnamon with rhubarb, but it’s perfect together. So perfect that I went ahead and made it even perfecter by adding two of my favorite dessert seasonings, cardamom and nutmeg.

Blend the whole shebang together until it looks like this:Image

Then dump it all into a baking pan and press evenly into a nice crust.Image

Chuck it in the oven on 350 and bake til golden. By now your rhubarb should be soft enough that you can do this to it just by mooshing with your wooden spoon. Image

But we don’t want it just moosh soft, we want it puree soft. Like a smooth pudding. Like an expensive face cream. So get in there with your immersion blender.Image

Looks appetizing, doesn’t it? Once in a while I find rhubarb stalks that are red all the way up and create a beautiful pink puree. But more often than not, it looks like something out of a Gerber jar. Not pretty. So let’s call in a little of nature’s food coloring. Raspberries. I always have a bag in my freezer for smoothies, so I just made a tiny bit of raspberry coulis. Half a cup of frozen raspberries, a tablespoon of sugar, and some vigorous stirring over medium heat makes this:Image

Strain it into your rhubarb and you will get something that looks like this. Much prettier.Image

When your shortbread looks like this, it’s ready to come out of the oven and cool on a rack.Image

While it’s cooling, mix together some egg yolks, sugar, and lemon zest. Add the rhubarb a scoop at a time and then place the bowl over a double boiler and for god’s sake, keep stirring. After about 5 minutes, it should be warmed through and thickened. I didn’t take any pictures of this part because the steam from the double boiler kept fogging my camera lens, but it looks pretty much like eggs mixed with sugar mixed with pink stuff. When it’s done, spread it over the shortbread and bake 10 more minutes at 350.Image

Droool… seriously you guys, these are so good my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I have one more left in the pan downstairs, I’d better go eat it before the kids wake up…Image

Rhubarb Shortbread Squares
makes 16 bars

For the rhubarb curd:

  • 3/4 pounds rhubarb
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh raspberries *optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar *optional
  • egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • teaspoon lemon zest
  • tablespoons softened butter

For the shortbread:

  • 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch cloves
1. Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Add rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, and water to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until rhubarb falls apart. Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender. If it looks pink and beautiful, you’re done for now. If it’s not pretty enough for you, cook the raspberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small pan over medium heat, stirring until all the berries are mashed and the juice has thickened to a syrupy consistency. Press the cooked raspberries through a fine mesh strainer into the pot of pureed rhubarb and stir to blend.
2.Preheat oven to 350. Put all the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and mix until combined. Dump dough into an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan and press evenly to the edges. Bake 30 minutes until light golden brown. Place the pan on a rack to cool, but don’t turn off the oven.
3. Fill the pot of a double boiler with a couple of inches of water. Place the bowl of the double boiler on the counter, and add the egg yolks, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon zest, mixing well. Add the rhubarb one spoonful at a time and stir until well combined. Place over the simmering pot and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until the curd is warm and thickened. Remove from heat.
4. Spread the rhubarb curd over the cooled shortbread crust and bake at 350 for 10 more minutes. Cool to room temperature on the counter, then store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to cut and serve.


midsummer night

bell flowerIn the PKE (pre-kids era) I never really thought that much about marking the passing of the seasons. The autumn equinox was exciting because that sometimes falls on my birthday, and it’s the only one of the seasons that actually coincides with the weather change. At the end of September you get out your cute jackets and your wooly sweaters and your boots and tights and you just feel totally fallish and cozy. But on the first day of winter, anywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s already been freezing for a good month, and there’s usually no snow accumulation for a few more weeks. It is extremely dark so all the holiday lights and/or candles at least make sense. And the first day of summer is kind of weird. It’s usually well into hot, swimsuity weather by now (got my first sunburn yesterday, in fact), school’s already out, white pants are already being worn, and like I said, the mosquitoes. (And don’t get me started on the cruel joke that is the first day of spring.)


Since having kids and especially since moving to rural Vermont, I have come to realize that celebrating the seasons (and micro-seasons, like lilac-blooming season, blueberry-picking season, and maple syrup season) is not just something to entertain yourself, or your kids. Celebrating seasonal change has actually helped me feel more at peace with the passage of time.  Which is no easy task when you have these phenomenal little creatures growing up around you at the speed of light. (By which I mean my children, not some kind of space-time forest of sea monkeys or something.) It’s like, if I have squeezed every last drop of summer-ness out of summer, then it’s not as sudden and tragic as it used to feel when summer is finally over.

So that brings us to Midsummer. Which, may I say, is a much more sensible name for it because it feels like the longest day of the year should be the middle of summer, not the beginning of it! Anyhow, we had a day of summery sun and fairy fun, and even my un-naturey photo-nerd husband got in on the action.

A few days ago he prepared some water color paper to make cyanotypes with the kids. If you don’t know what cyanotypes are, it’s basically the simplest type of photographic process. The paper is the film, and sunlight will turn it blue. If there is something covering the paper, those places will remain white.

Once the paper’s been exposed long enough, you wash the blue-making chemicals off the paper in running water, and dip it in hydrogen peroxide to heighten the contrast.



(In a funny coincidence, I found out after posting this that a local photographer friend also did cyanotypes with his kid this morning. I guess photo dad + hippie paganesque Vermont  + June 21 = solstice cyanotypes.) If you want to make your own cyanotypes, here’s the full DIY instructions, including how to make the treated paper, or you can just buy pre-made cyanotype paper.

After lunch, we crossed one off our summer wish list by attending a bluegrass concert at the nursing home across from our house. The kids danced and ran around, and when they got too squirrelly, I took them back across the street to get some lemonade from some boys who had a stand on the corner, and then watched the rest while eating snacks from the comfort of our porch.


We’re lucky enough to belong to a CSA that offers unlimited PYO herbs, and the kids had gathered a bunch of chamomile on Thursday to make tea with. I truly am raising two little old ladies. We had our afternoon tea in the backyard with some leftover chunks of cake and frosting from our other morning project – making a sun cake!


I came across this Mandarin Orange Cake the other day and when I read this in the description, I was sold: “Most of its charm is deeply rooted in the fact that this cake is not for special occasions. It’s a summer cake, a cake to make at the lake house, or cabin, or eaten while sitting in wet swimsuits while wrapped in beach towels.” I didn’t feel like going out and buying canned fruit and a cake mix, so I just made my go to yellow cake recipe instead, but I’m saving that easy peasy one in my back pocket for a beach vacation dessert. What I did make from that recipe was the frosting – whipped cream frosting, my favorite, with orange zest, and the amazing trick of adding instant pudding to stabilize it! Hallelujah! I mixed in some turmeric for a nice hippie-style yellow color.


We cooked and ate dinner al fresco, courtesy of ye olde firepit and some hot dogs from The Chopper, as I affectionately call our local low-rent grocery chain. Mitigated slightly by the local organic salad that sat mostly untouched on the kids plates. Thanks to the funny gardening picture book that I picked up at a library surplus sale back in Chicago, Muncha Muncha Muncha, they do love to eat the hearts of the lettuce, at least.

After dinner was as consumed as it was gonna get, I brought out the glorious cake. We decorated it with strawberries and some nasturtiums from our garden. Yum!


To make the sun shape for the top layer, I just cut a small circle out of the cake, placed it on top of the frosted bottom layer, and then cut triangles out of the remaining ring of cake, placing them around the circle, and  then frosted the whole thing. I am not a frosting master, somebody like my cousin Jorie could probably do something phenomenal with this idea.

After bath and jammies, the kids decided we should leave some sun cake for the fairies too, since tonight is their big to do. We made a picnic table outside their cabin and the kids found little leaves for plates and stones for benches. My five year-old was adamant that ten fairies were going to come, so we left ten tiny chunks of cake on ten leaves for them. Hope they enjoy it as much as we did!