Recipe: Rhubarb Meringue
Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers a recipe that combines a “delicious mess” of rhubarb topping with the elegance of a meringue that’s surprisingly easy to make.
Nearly a decade ago, I found my rhubarb on Tyringham Road. Earlier that year, I had dug my first square of garden, lovingly turned compost into the clay-filled soil, and planted kale, broccoli, lettuces, and tomatoes. I killed every plant with impressive efficiency, and it was clearly time for a new strategy.
“Go perennial.” That came from my friend Molly’s mom, Lin. She’s one of those people who can create instant magical corners of wild blueberry bushes, thriving fruit trees, and acres of frilled tulips with the touch of one garden-gloved hand. So I took her advice. And that fall, I had the good fortune to end up in the car with Lin on Tyringham Road. She was already planning my future garden in her head.
“There it is. There’s your rhubarb!”
Tyringham Road connects the back neighborhoods of Lee with the woods of Monterey and Otis. Most people who use it live either in one of those towns or Tyringham itself, which sits in the cradle of the hills about midway between Monterey and Lee. The road is one of the most beautiful in all of Berkshire County, and it’s worth a drive even if it takes you nowhere you need to go. Many of the newer houses are grand and sweeping, but there are an equal number of small ranch houses with views to make you weep that have been in the same families for generations. It was outside one of these very houses that Lin spotted my rhubarb, one of a few tiny pots, each with its burst of rhubarb. There was a shoebox, too, and a sign.
I’m still finding myself as a gardener, but that one plant is the crown jewel of the garden. It always seems to come up weeks before I think it will, and it continues to produce rhubarb long after rhubarb season is over. That rhubarb feeds us through the spring and half the summer in cakes, chutneys, and anything else we can dream up.
Rhubarb and meringue are a great team, and this is an especially good recipe if you’re turned off by the fussiness of classic meringue. It’s like a Pavlova without all the rules, and as long as you beat the whites well and bake until it’s golden, the meringue will create the perfect base for the delicious mess on top of it.
Serves 4 to 6
For the meringue:
3 egg whites
½ cup granulated sugar
pinch Kosher salt
For the topping:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
the seeds of 1 vanilla bean
½ cup crème fraiche
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer until they’re white, foamy, and barely hold a soft peak, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the salt, and slowly add the sugar as the mixer runs. Keep beating until the mixture is white and glossy and not gritty to the touch, another 3 to 4 minutes. Spread the egg white mixture into a rough oval about ½ inch thick. Bake until golden and mostly hard to the touch, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, make the topping. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, and vanilla bean seeds in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool a bit.
3. Gently peel the meringue off the parchment. It might be a little sticky, and it might crack, but it’s okay—you’re going for total imperfection here. Lay the meringue on a serving plate and pour the rhubarb sauce overtop. Top with the crème fraiche hither and thither and pour the almonds over the whole mess of it. Cut into slices, or just put the plate in the center of the table and invite everyone to go for it.