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They don't call it pie plant for nothing

With a moniker like “pie plant,” it’s clear that rhubarb holds special promise for anyone harboring sweet-tooth tendencies. Indeed, this humble stalk didn’t acquire such a nickname because it tastes good in soup. It was awarded that title because of its affinity for pastry, sugar and grandmas, three things I’m far too crazy about to knock.

If those aren’t reasons enough to consider taking advantage of our fabulous local supply right now, throw in ease of preparation. Just ask rhubarb fans and they’ll assure you they can whip up a pie or an ice cream sauce lickety-split.

Indeed, there’s no peeling, pitting, coring or stemming when it comes to turning rhubarb into any number of simple, tasty desserts. If you can wield a chef's knife and boil water, then you’re 10 minutes away from rhubarb pudding or rhubarb sauce. You spend more time than that picking through the basil in preparation for your special pesto concoctions.

However, by investing in just a little more time, this spring-into-summer crop can be preserved for winter pleasures. Freezing is the simplest method, because rhubarb — like blueberries, cranberries, currants, figs and gooseberries — can be preserved without sugar, syrup or juice.

To freeze rhubarb, wash firm, young, well-colored stalks. Dry each stalk well. Trim and cut into desired-size pieces to fit your packaging material, then pack the pieces into freezer bags or cartons, leaving ½-inch head room to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze. When using your frozen rhubarb pieces, there’s no need to thaw it prior to cooking.

Classic Rhubarb Pie

Although strawberries and rhubarb is a popular pairing for pie, plenty of folks like to keep it more straightforward so the rhubarb flavor shines through. There’s a “With Strawberries” variation at the end of the recipe.

Pastry for 2-crust pie

1-1/3 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

½ teaspoon grated orange or lemon peel (optional)

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups (½-inch pieces) rhubarb

2 tablespoons butter

Combine the sugar, flour, orange or lemon peel (if using) and salt. Toss this dry mixture with the rhubarb, then pile it into a pastry-lined, 9-inch pie pan and dot with the butter.

Place the top crust over the filling and flute the edges to make a high-standing rim, if possible. With a sharp knife, cut vents in the top crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the juice begins to bubble through the vents and the crust is golden brown.

STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB VARIATION: Reduce the sugar to 1¼ cups, omit the orange/lemon peel, decrease the rhubarb to 2 cups and add 2 cups sliced fresh strawberries. When arranging the rhubarb and strawberries in the pie shell, layer in 1 cup of each, then sprinkle with half of the sugar/flour mixture. Repeat with remaining rhubarb and strawberries and remaining sugar mixture.

— Recipe from “Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook,” edited by Nell B. Nichols and the Farm Journal Food Staff.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Makes 1 pie

3 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 large egg

2 tablespoons flour

1 uncooked pie shell

TOPPING:

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the rhubarb in a bowl and cover with boiling water for about 5 minutes, just to soften.

Meanwhile whisk together the sugar, egg, butter and flour until smooth.

Strain the rhubarb well, then fold it into the batter, combining well. Pour the batter into the uncooked pie shell.

Mix the topping ingredients with a fork, then sprinkle over the uncooked pie. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes or until the filling is set.

Rhubarb Cobbler

Makes 1 9-inch cobbler

4½ cups rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

TOPPING:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold butter, cut into ¼-inch chunks

1 large egg, beaten

½ cup half-and-half

Vanilla ice cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch baking dish. Combine the rhubarb with the sugar and spread out evenly in the baking dish.

To prepare the topping, combine the flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter pieces to make a crumbly mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg with the half-and-half. Add the cream mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir with a fork just until the batter will hold together. It will be quite stiff.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls on top of the rhubarb/sugar mixture in the baking dish. It doesn’t have to cover the rhubarb completely because it will spread and puff as it bakes.

Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Serve warm or cooled with the ice cream.

Jan's Rhubarb Crisp

7 cups diced rhubarb

1¾ cups granulated sugar

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided

1 cup oats

¾ cup butter, softened

Toss the rhubarb with the granulated sugar, 1/3 cup of the flour, ¼ teaspoon of the cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of the nutmeg, the salt and the water. Spread the rhubarb mixture into a lightly greased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the 1 cup of brown sugar, ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¾ teaspoon nutmeg with the remaining 1 cup of flour and the 1 cup of oats. Cut in the butter and mix until it reaches a crumbled consistency. Sprinkle the topping over the rhubarb, making sure it drops down into and around the fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender and the topping is golden. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb Strawberry Sauce

Tart, crisp, tasty rhubarb and smooth, sweet strawberries are just naturally complementary. When the rhubarb is ready for picking, make a big batch of this sauce and store in your freezer. It's great to have around for breakfast, for snacking or warmed over gingerbread.

2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

4 cups hulled, halved strawberries

1½ cups sugar

½ cup fresh orange juice

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt (optional)

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring once and skimming off any foam that forms on top, until the rhubarb is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the vanilla bean and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Place in clean containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze. If freezing, the containers must be freezer-proof; leave 1-inch head space to allow for expansion. The sauce will keep for two days in the refrigerator, or up to 6 months in the freezer. Yields about 8 cups.

— Recipe adapted from: "The New Basics Cookbook," by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

SIMPLE SAUCE IN THE MICROWAVE

This recipe is quick and simple and makes a sweet topping to serve over ice cream

4 cups rhubarb pieces (cut into 1-inch)

2 tablespoons water

¼ to ½ cup sugar (more as desired)

Combine the rhubarb, water and about ¼ cup of the sugar. Cover and microwave on high until rhubarb is tender, about 3 minutes, turning and stirring once. Let the mixture cool slightly, then puree the mixture in a blender or food processor, adding more sugar if desired. Keeps in the refrigerator for several days. For long-term storage, pour into freezer containers, leaving about 1 inch head space, cover and freeze. Yields about 2½ cups.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

Rhubarb and pie go hand in hand.