Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wu-barb and Sorbets

Definition: Wu-barb, guaranteed to make you pucker-up, is a wonderfully sour, tart vegetable really named rhubarb, almost impossible to eat without sweetening (generally used in desserts).

Last year I saw all the lovely bright red rhubarb stalks on display at the Farmer's Market for $4 a pound. If I ever ate any rhubarb growing up, I surely don't remember, but I must have because the mere mention brings up a tiny warm fuzzy feeling. So, I planted a 4" pot of rhubarb, planning for rhubarb pie this year. That didn't happen. 2 weeks ago I decided the rhubarb was in the wrong spot and moved it. Who knew? Rhubarb just under a year old has a taproot to China! Sigh.

I bought 2 more 4" pots of rhubarb last week, and now have 2 healthy starts flanking the original plant (which I do not expect to survive). Not having any rhubarb to cook this year left me with a curiosity about what else rhubarb is good for besides pie. (A cautionary note here: do not eat rhubarb leaves. They contain lots of oxalic acid, potentially toxic to humans and animals.) An internet search turned up Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb Custard Bars, Rhubarb Chutney... and Rhubarb Sorbet! The photo posted (just by itself) of the rhubarb sorbet made my mouth water, even without reading the recipe. YUM!

Sorbets are easy to make with an ice cream churn. If not, you can make what the Italians call a granita in an ice tray in the freezer. Some folks confuse sherberts and sorbets, but they are not the same. Sherberts are like a sorbet but contain additional milk or egg products while sorbets are just fruits (or fruit juices), sugar and water.

Some years ago I treated my mother to an elaborate 7 course meal for her birthday at a very upscale restaurant in Coral Gables (FL) on a reservations-only "gourmet night" where they selected the menu, prix fixe (sometimes called table d'hôte). We were a small family group of 3 couples and from the start it was fantastic. Upon being seated, the ladies were presented with a long stemmed rose, and a waiter came with an armload of small throw pillows "for the feet". Trust me, our dining experience was over 3 hours long and the foot pillows became very welcome. Too bad they didn't bring some for my butt!

I don't exactly remember all the courses but before the main course, the waiters served a palate cleanser. It was a grapefruit sorbet frozen in a hollowed-out grapefruit half and sliced into small wedges. Very tasty, and did the job of cleansing the palate!

That following summer I visited my mother and step-father at their mountain cottage and Mother and I tried to replicate many of the courses while I was there. My mother had some cans of grapefruit juice on hand for my step-father's afternoon Salty Dog cocktail. To make our grapefruit sorbet, we used the juice straight from the can but sweetened a bit; dumped it into the cannister of the churn, iced it down with rock salt and I started to crank. After less than 2 minutes, the crank met a LOT of resistance and I thought I had broken it. Nope, the sorbet was set!

We had planned to skip the grapefruit shells and just serve a small scoop of the sorbet in a dish. Fortunately, we had no company invited to dinner because when I tasted the sorbet, it was so salty I couldn't eat it. I had no idea how much sodium was in canned grapefruit juice; it's not noticeable in just drinking the juice. Not being wasteful, Mother froze the sorbet and my step-father had frozen Salty Dogs for weeks!

I have made sorbet many times since then but none as surprising as that first time. A favorite summer dessert (depending on the meal) is a melon-ball scoop of raspberry sorbet and a melon-ball scoop of "fuzzy navel" (or plain) orange sorbet served side by side, with an almond or hazelnut pirouette stuck in like a straw.

Meanwhile I wait with anticipation for next year and rhubarb sorbet!


  1. Perfect time of year to discuss 'wubarb'. :)
    This is a recipe I made when the kids were little. They loved it! I got the recipe from my childless senior citizen neighbor who had made it for decades.

    Rhubarb-Orange Juice
    Put rhubarb, cut into 1.5"-2" pieces, in a large pan.
    Cover with water to 1" above rhubarb.
    Bring to boil, lower heat, cook for 20 minutes.
    Strain and fill quart jars.
    Add 1/2 c. sugar to each jar.
    Proccess in hot water bath to seal.
    To use, mix half and half with orange juice.
    Note: Place a metal knife in quart jar to absorb heat and avoid cracking jars when filling with hot juice.

    My neighbor used Tang instead of OJ. Is that stuff still around?

  2. M Laura, the juice recipe sounds like a good way to "put up" some rhubarb. Thanks!

    They still make Tang, but it's a lot different formula now and contains some artificial sweeteners. Yuck.


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