I’ve wanted us to do vinegar chicken for awhile and Jody, who can never see a lily without thinking of three different ways to gild it, suggested we invite rhubarb. Fine with me, as long as it didn’t make my mouth turn inside out. She also knows that I’ll eat rhubarb in just about anything.
When our son Oliver was seven or eight and we lived within shouting distance of East Cambridge I used to take him with me to visit Courthouse Fish Market on Thursday afternoons to pick up seafood for dinner. Courthouse is an old-school establishment. Glass cases filled with ice and gleaming fresh fish–sardines, tilefish, snapper, salmon, flunder, bluefish, squid, swordfish and several varieties of clams, including the large razor clams you’ve seen here before. Opposite the fresh fish display a freezer holds frozen octopus, Alaskan king crab legs, squid and fava beans and wooden cases stacked nearby contain salt cod. On Thursdays Moray eels came in from Portugal. One of these arm-sized monsters, dark gray with brilliant yellow spots and a ferocious set of teeth in its gaping jaws usually occupied pride of place in the front window. We stood in front of the window and stared. People ate that? We no longer live within hailing distance of this venerable Cambridge institution, but when I pass through the neighborhood I try to stop by. For this week’s Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce I made a special trip.
Never schedule a photo shoot with your wife for the day after she disassembles and packs her Seven road bike for a trip. Not unless you want dessert sharing the frame with epidermal roadkill. A Photoshop alchemist might be able to redeem the damage, but my skills are more 4th-grade pick-a-card-any-card than digital wizard. If you catch a gouged finger–and there are ten of them in this post–or a bashed nail, you know why. But no matter–spring is here. Somewhere people are riding bicycles. Tufted titmice are peter-peter-peter-ing. And if this morning you woke up to a dusting of snow, as we did in Boston, you can still make yourself a sweet-tart dessert with a concentrated essence of Spring in it, Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé. And a great dessert it is, with two kinds of tartness, and 3 different textures, even if the hands that made it look a bit worse for the wear.
We haven’t made a cake for awhile and Rhubarb and Rose Upside-Down Cake seemed like a no-brainer. Some pale pink rhubarb for spring, a note of the exotic in the rosewater, the whole thing delivered in as folksy and unpretentious American a package as one could imagine–an upside-down cake.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
There’s something jokey about rhubarb, the way it passes for a fruit when it’s really a vegetable, the sexy red exterior seducing the unwary into a tart encounter, the way it can be fully ripe and–in the case of field rhubarb–fully green. Even the alternative uses of the word itself have a kind of prankish …
You can’t walk through a decent produce section these days without seeing bunches of crimson rhubarb stalks, the prettiest fruit in the aisle, begging to be taken home. Here in New England rhubarb is the deepest red of its extended season because we’re getting hothouse rhubarb. The field-ripened stalks are a paler color. Color, by …