According to my mother, there is a little lake town south of Montreal where we used to stop for ice cream as kids. I can't remember it, but she says we would drive through on our way to Cache Lake, somewhere along the fourteen hour corridor that led from my parents' front door to the dirt parking lot in Algonquin Park, Ontario. My parents rented a vacation cabin there, and my sister and I went to camp—all girls, with overnight canoeing trips. The little stop-over town, Coaticook, was a summer place, she says—about an hour north of the Vermont border, with the highway running straight through.
I wish I could conjure it up, but I can't. All I can tell you about Coaticook is this: the Rhubarb Gingerbread Pudding its newspaper published on May 28th, 1959 is, as advertised, so delish.
I found the recipe in an old old copy of the Coaticook Observer I dug up online, before my mother brought all her memories out. I didn't recognize the place, but I loved everything about the dish. I loved the way the rhubarb was peppered with orange rind, wrapped in sweet ginger dough, and served with a cold custard sauce. I made it in my mother's old blue-stenciled pudding dish, and I loved the way the tangy stewed rhubarb relaxed into the bottom of the pan while the hot, steamy molasses bread puffed into a sort of pillow on top. Alex and I ate it with the windows thrown open and a quilt over our laps, the pudding hot from the oven and vanilla ice cream melting on top. It was to-die-for, zingy, old-fashioned good.
It was only when I called my mother, sent her the recipe, and urged her to make it that I learned all the rest. I searched through pictures online and tried to remember the place. I tried to crawl back through to a time when summers meant paddling and singing and ten days in a canoe, but I couldn't conjure it up. I remember camp, of course, but I think Coaticook is lost for good. I can't say I really mind. I have rhubarb and gingerbread pudding these days, which I think is a pretty fair trade.
RHUBARB GINGERBREAD PUDDING
Before making this, I had never combined rhubarb and gingerbread. I was missing out. The Coaticook Observer says that the union of these two favorite flavors results in a unique and tantalizing treat, and it is absolutely correct. I added a bit more fruit to the compote, but otherwise, this recipe is straight out of Quebec, circa 1959.
4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 stick butter
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Grease a deep 8- by 8-inch pudding dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the pudding dish, toss together the rhubarb, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the orange rind. Dot the fruit with 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of the butter, and put the dish into the preheated oven.
While the fruit cooks, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon in a medium-size mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 5 and 1/2 tablespoons butter until smooth, then beat in the egg. Combine the molasses and boiling water in a large measuring cup, and stir until combined. Add the flour and molasses mixtures alternately to the creamed mixture, stirring until just mixed after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
Spoon the batter evenly over the partially cooked rhubarb and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the gingerbread is a deep brown. (It should have the texture of baked gingerbread cake.) Serve warm, with whipped cream, custard sauce, or vanilla ice cream.
P.S. If you don't have a rhubarb patch, Jim Rose's rhubarb is in. He sells roughly 1-pound bundles for $5, in Wellfleet at his house off Route 6. If you're going from downtown toward Orleans, it's on the left just before the post office. And of course, the farmers' markets in Provincetown and Orleans start this Saturday, which means there'll be fresh rhubarb all around.