I just passed somewhat of a milestone birthday and the other weekend I went home to Maine visit my family and celebrate. For my birthday dinner, in honor of the new decade I am living in which I am determined to make my dreams come true, I decided to take a chance on dessert. I know, taking a chance on an untried dish during a family meal is not the best idea. However, my idea was so simple and basic and combined three of my favorite things that I felt sure it would succeed on some level. Here’s what I was craving for my 30th birthday: shortbread cookie with strawberry rhubarb compote, topped with homemade whipped cream. It’s sort of like a deconstructed strawberry rhubarb pie.
Separating the elements of pie—crust and filling—makes this dessert easier than pie! It’s a perfect, understated spring and early summer treat, but as you know, I’m hoarding rhubarb in my freezer to use all year long.
First, prepare your compote.
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
2 cups strawberries
1 1/2 cups rhubarb stalks
1/2 cup sugar
1 TBS lemon juice
Hull and quarter the strawberries, chop the rhubarb and mix them with the sugar and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently and adding a tablespoon or two of water if it becomes too jelly-like. Once the fruit begins to break down lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the shortbread.
I found an old Gourmet magazine recipe on Epicurious, but really, any shortbread recipe will do. To make these vegan/dairy free I used Earth Balance instead of butter and it worked just fine.
Fresh Whipped Cream
I put my sister to work whipping cream (it’s my energetic teenage niece and nephew that help with this task, but they were not available that night). It’s extremely easy:
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Put ingredients into a large metal bowl and whisk (or you can use an electric mixer) until the is light and fluffy.
To serve: Place a wedge of shortbread on a plate, pour about 1/2 of a cup of compote over it and top with whipped cream. Delicious!
While we were enjoying our deconstructed pie my Mom brought out our battered copy of “Country Fare,” a cookbook and memoir by Esther Wood, who is a “model for the women of Maine,” according to the Maine Woman’s Hall of Fame. “Country Fare” is the cookbook that taught my mother and I how to roast a whole pumpkin and puree it to make pumpkin pie filling, thus enabling us to swear off canned pumpkin forever through the lovely story “Grandfather Grew Pumpkins.” Esther Wood lived “down east” in Blue Hill, Maine, which is a beautiful and harsh landscape with a long winter. In her book she shares her experiences growing up there and passes on the wisdom her parents and grandparents imparted to her about growing, preserving and cooking food. I know that homesteading is all the rage now, but for anyone daring to be a nouveau back-to-the-lander in the northeast I recommend you hunt down a used copy of “Country Fare” (I’m sure it’s out of print). Esther Wood will learn you some things.
For example, my mother read a story about rhubarb. In it Esther Wood explained that “strawberry rhubarb pie” did not originally include strawberries. While rhubarb is an early spring plant in Maine strawberries will not begin to be ripe there until at least mid-June. As a result it was seasonally impossible to have a dish with strawberries and rhubarb. What “strawberry rhubarb” originally referred to was the color of the the rhubarb stalk. “Strawberry rhubarb” has a bright red stalk, different from different types of rhubarb with greener stalks. So, if you want to be really seasonally appropriate in Maine serve the strawberry rhubarb without the strawberries.