5.24.2010

I've fallen hard

I am well aware that we talked about rhubarb with gingerbread ten days ago, but today, we are going to have to talk about it again. The thing is, rhubarb season is short and sweet, and that was pudding, and this is shortcake, and well, what can I say. I've fallen hard.

Also, I have a feeling that once you take a bite—a bite of soft, puffy Raleigh Tavern Gingerbread with stewed rhubarb and a big pile of homemade whipped cream, you won't mind. You'll be thrilled, I think.

I found the recipe on a card a few weeks ago. It was a birthday card that my grandmother had sent to my mother, all the way back in 1994. It had a painting of the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia on the front, and inside, two notes. I can hardly read my grandfather's writing—he passed away two years after the card was written, when I was only eleven—but I can make out the words "baby girl" and "moment of great joy," and given the way my grandfather felt about my mother, I think it's a fairly safe bet to guess he's talking about her birth. My grandmother gets a little mushy too, but she manages to keep it together enough to tell my mother that their favorite gingerbread recipe, the one from Raleigh Tavern, is printed on the back.

Which is a good thing, because my mother loves that gingerbread. We used to go to Colonial Williamsburg a lot when my sister and I were little—my mother's family is from Richmond—and we stopped at Raleigh Tavern for a bag of gingerbread every trip. The thing about the Raleigh Tavern gingerbread is that it's different from any other specimen I've ever had. It's dry, and crumbly, and almost biscuit-like, and when you buy it at the tavern, it comes all puffed up in the shape of a scone. It's almost like a gingerbread shortcake, I've always thought.


Which is why I was so delighted to dig up the recipe the other day when I had a jug of fresh whipping cream (our first from the farm!) and a bag of pink, fresh-cut rhubarb stalks from the farmers' market that were just begging to be stewed. I had a sudden flash forward to rhubarb gingerbread shortcakes, and there was no turning back. There was instead a rush of cranking up the oven, pulling out the molasses, and turning on a burner. And then there was rhubarb gingerbread shortcake, and first bites, and something that felt a lot like falling in love.

RHUBARB GINGERBREAD SHORTCAKE

This recipe is adapted from a gingerbread cookie recipe my grandmother picked up at Raleigh Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. I've tweaked it only twice—I substituted butter for margarine and heavy cream for evaporated milk. The cookies didn't rise quite as much as they usually do, which probably had something to do with the heavy cream, but for making shortcake they were a little bit moister, and just right.

1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar

whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, cream, molasses, and vanilla and stir until smooth. Add the flour a cup at a time, stirring until just incorporated after each addition. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to your fingers; you may need to add up to an extra 3/4 cup of flour. When the dough is smooth, roll it out 1/2-inch thick on a lightly-floured surface. Use a biscuit cutter to punch it into rounds, and bake for 8-10 minutes on greased cookie sheets.

To make the stewed rhubarb, combine the rhubarb, water, and brown sugar in a medium-size saucepot. (Do not use an aluminum pot; the rhubarb is acidic and will react with the metal.) Stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue cooking 10 minutes, or until all the rhubarb pieces break down.

To make the shortcakes, cut each gingerbread cookie in half and spoon about 1/4 cup of stewed rhubarb over the bottom piece. Top this with a dollop of whipped cream and the top of the cookie, and serve at once.

P.S. About the photographs. Alex and I in a terrible joint blunder managed to drop and break my Minolta Instant Pro several weeks ago, an accident that almost cost us our marriage. And although our union survived and I just won a new one on eBay that should be arriving very shortly, I am currently without my Minolta and instead using an old sx-70. It works perfectly, but the only film currently available is old, wonky expired Polaroid film that does not seem to have its colors quite right. So, we're going with it, getting into the crazy, and holding our breath for a change in either film or cameras soon. Until then, bear with us. I do know that rhubarb should be pink and red, not orange and blue. I swear.

5 comments :

Laurie said...

Our first rhubarb is looking really good. I'm saving this for next year to try. It sounds wonderful!

Beth said...

Thank you for the recipe. Our rhubarb is getting close to picking size - now I'm wondering how one makes rhubarb produce big stalks instead of big leaves and skinnier stalks. By the way, I like the interesting photos. And here I thought you were using the Polaroid app on your iphone!

Elspeth said...

Laurie & Beth,

It seems like it takes forever, doesn't it? We have two plants that we put in last year and two more we put in this year. The ones from last year are from established root stock, but just like yours, Beth, they make big leaves and skinny stalks. I've heard rhubarb likes horse manure, but I haven't tried it yet. I also know they like wet feet. If you discover any secrets let me know!

And Beth, I'm glad you like the interesting photos. They seem to be getting wonkier by the day, but it's fun to play with the film. And no, no iphone for me. Alex has one, though, and I've been trying to get him to download that holga app. It looks like fun!

Enjoy the sun,

Elspeth

Alice said...

I love rhubarb, too. And your blog. Thanks for sharing your stories and recipes.

Elspeth said...

thank you alice. that is very kind!

all the best,
elspeth

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