rhubarb and white pine paletas

I spent the past 2.5 years of my life studying eastern white pine trees. Pinus strobus trees, for those who are curious. During that time, I chewed on a lot of pine needles. Why? – because when I’m in the woods, I like to sample. Because I like to see how things taste. Because I love to eat.

Some things have become favorites, such as wintergreen leaves. Others, such as  maple twigs, I’ve learned to ignore, because they taste like, you guessed it, twigs. And now that I’ve finished my research project, it’s only natural that I…. pine for those good ole days.

I’ve been seeing so many good popsicle recipes lately, it’s made me wild-eyed with desire to make my own. Since rhubarb is a big hit at my house, it made for a clear choice when pondering what flavor of ice pops to kick off summer with. But where I’m going with all this is that I decided to spice my pops up with none other than white pine needles.

Simple syrups are made for water-based ice pops such as these. For this recipe, I steeped a hefty amount of white pine needles in the syrup for an hour. For identification purposes, eastern white pine is a 5-needle pine, meaning that there are 5 needles per ‘bundle’ on the twig.

You can use this year’s needles if they have already grown to their full length; up here in northern Maine, they’re still small, and the new growth is still very sticky. As such, I used last year’s needles – the next whorl of needles back. Make sure to wash them well and remove any sneaky insects. Try to avoid needles from roadside trees where pesticides or heavy salt may have been applied.

At top: this year’s foliage on white pine begins to grow. At bottom: A mature white pine [plus a shadow that indicates I’m the proud owner of the world’s longest pants] captured wonkily through a fisheye. Identify this tree by the feathery appearance of its foliage.

If you don’t live in the east, southeast, or midwest of the U.S. (or somewhere in our forgotten neighbor to the north), you’re out of luck for finding eastern white pine. But you, unlucky one, can take the following advice I’m about to offer despite not having any factual basis for doing so. Find the ‘strobus‘ located in your region, and hopefully its genetic similarity will allow it to flavor simple syrup in the same way.

You could also use spruce needles.

Or, you know, you could just leave it out of the recipe. Everything will still taste prrrrrretty much the same, to the non-discerning palate.

 

By the way, those flavorless maple twigs? They work perfectly as substitute popsicle sticks.

Rhubarb and White Pine Paletas {original recipe}

Makes 12 3-oz ice pops

++Ingredients:++

~1 lb rhubarb, cleaned
Pinch cinnamon
8 oz water (1 c.)
8 oz sugar (1 heaping c.)
4 – 6 whorls of white pine needles (1 to 1 1/2 c.), cleaned

++Directions:++

In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar, and heating until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat off, add the white pine needles, and let steep for at least one hour. Remove and discard needles when finished steeping.

Meanwhile, remove rhubarb ends. Chop roughly into pieces, and place in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover the rhubarb, and a generous pinch of cinnamon. Cook over medium high heat for 15 to 25 minutes, until the rhubarb has broken down and formed a near-homogenous mixture.

Using a strainer, separate the rhubarb mixture (a greenish color) from its juice (pink). Save the juice. In a pourable container (such as a juice pitcher), combine rhubarb mixture with simple syrup. Add in reserved rhubarb juice – which is very bitter – bit by bit, tasting frequently to reach desired sweetness level. When level is reached (I still had a decent amount of juice remaining), pour into 3 oz. paper cups or popsicle molds. If using cups, set in a shallow pan, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Insert twigs or popsicle sticks into the center of each cup, pushing down to secure.

Freeze for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

We enjoyed these as the finale to a Midsummer Feast last Wednesday night. For the feast, we made some homemade aquavit, and served dill potato and smoked salmon salad, quick pickled cucumbers, and salmon encrusted with coriander, fennel and dill seeds.

Goodbye, Midsummer. Hello, winter….. in a few short months!

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blood, locusts and a rhubarb meringue pie

Last night I had the pleasure of reclining back with a delicious meal – my second Passover Seder dinner. While I was less confused this time around, I still had quite a bit to comprehend about this symbolically-rich feast. Fortunately/unfortunately, my copy of The Concise Family Seder was drastically different from the version that the group was following (and the version I remember following last year). This was fine by me, as it allowed me to delve further into such raucous and memorable songs as “The One Only Kid.” It also allowed me to distractedly follow the ritual, while staring down the dessert that I had made for the occasion. It was in a clear line of sight the entire time. It was…

Rhubarb meringue pie!

 

I saw a wonderful version of this dessert earlier this week on MyKugelhopf. Kerrin had made a rhubarb (rhabarber for her and her Zurich compatriots) meringue pie, with a Speculoos-based crust and a generous topping of meringue. It sounded phenomenal. It sounded mildly time-consuming. It sounded like something I could adapt for my Seder dinner. And Kerrin had already thought of that, mentioning that she planned to make the dessert again this week with a matzoh meal crust. So there it was. I had my dessert, and all I needed to do was find a matzoh meal crust recipe – not my specialty.

Enter Four Pounds Flour, a blog devoted to Historic Gastronomy, that I found while searching for appetizing matzoh meal pie crust recipes. The blog’s author, Sarah Lohman, cooks “temporal fusion cuisine,” which I will admit fascinates me to no end. Her posts are a wealth of old recipes, reworked and translated into present-day terms. Her matzoh meal pie crust recipe comes from the 1944 Manischewitz publication Ba’ṭam’ṭe Yidishe maykholim, or Tempting Kosher Dishes. I was tempted already. Or at least I was until I made my way through the post, finding moderately disturbing photos of the to-be-baked product, labeled “I made you puke pie.”

And with that… I became more tempted.

Which was a good thing, because it worked. I judged the amount of magical matzoh mix in Sarah’s photos to be insufficient for my crusty needs, so I upped the number of matzohs from 1 1/2 to 2. It was an interesting process: soak the matzohs, wring the matzohs of all water, and fry the matzohs in shortening, before adding them to a mixture of matzoh meal, eggs, sugar and salt. This batter came together quite nicely for me, and I was able to push the crust into shape up the sides of the pie plate.

I didn’t take a photo of the pre-baked crust, but it looked remarkably similar to some sort of bird seed.

The theme of the day seemed to be inefficient supply, as the cooked-down rhubarb didn’t look aplenty to me. And my now-satisfied crusty needs.

Since I had no more rhubarb in my possession, I decided to turn the filling into a more custardy affair, similar to my recipe for blood orange meringue pie. The addition of three egg yolks may have been a bit much for the subtle and tart rhubarb flavor, but after adding some extra salt, the flavors were again apparent. And tasty!

I attempted to dye the filling with some small peeled wedges of beet, and it worked almost a wee bit. A wee beet. However, the beet flavors became stronger until I decided to yank them out of the pot. I probably overreacted, as the taste was likely not as strong as I was imagining it to be. Still, I’m trying to be more cautious, as I have a nasty habit for altering recipes for the worse, with or without thinking the ramifications through first.

I tinted the meringue pink. I have a nasty habit for tinting things pink, with or without thinking the ramifications through first. In this case, however, I think it worked out all right. It didn’t look ridiculously bright to me, or too fake. I like the way that colored meringue looks when it browns, and it seemed an apt choice for a pie made out of a red vegetable that loses its coloring once cooked.

Upon arriving at the Seder celebration, an exploratory crumb of matzoh meal found its way onto my finger. Knowing it came from the pie, I popped it into my mouth. This is what I do. I have a nasty habit for popping “edibles” into my mouth, with or without thinking the ramifications through first. So many nasty habits. At any rate, the piece of meal nearly broke my teeth, it was so hard. My delight at not only making a successful meringue pie, but also at transporting it without losing more that a half cup of juicy filling, turned into a terror that I was going to feed my friends tooth-breaking pie. This may be a more truthful explanation of why I remained distracted throughout the Seder.

Creeping over to the pie shortly after eating the savory portion of the evening’s foodstuffs, I was extraordinarily relieved to discover that the wayward matzoh crumb was indeed just that. The rest of the crust was edible, and good by matzoh meal standards. It was crunchy, sticky, and had flavors of caramel (this must have been all the FAT). The filling was also good, but if I make this again I’d like to beef it up a bit more. Perhaps 1.5 pounds of rhubarb, rather than 1. And more of the same, delicious meringue. And no wayward matzoh crumbs.

For more information, check out the following links:

Let the Rhubarb (Dessert) Season Begin – MyKugelhopf
The History Dish: Matzo Meal Pie Crust – Four Pounds Flour
Blood Orange Meringue Pie

Rhubarb Meringue Pie
{recipe adapted from MyKugelhopf & Four Pounds Flour}

Makes 1 pie

Matzoh Meal Pie Crust

++Ingredients:++

2 matzohs
1 1/2 tbsp shortening
1/2 c. matzoh meal
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt

++Directions:++

Soak matzohs, then press them as dry as possible. Fry in a skillet with shortening until dry and crispy; at this point they should have turned golden brown in color.

Mix matzohs with the other ingredients: I mixed all the ingredients in the pie plate that I planned to bake with. Press in pie plate to a 1/4-inch thickness.

Bake for 18-20 minutes in a 350 F oven.

Set aside to cool.

Rhubarb Filling

++Ingredients:++

1+ lbs rhubarb, roughly chopped
1/2 c. sugar
Juice and zest of 1/2 a small lemon
1 tbsp cornstarch
Small beet wedges, for coloring (if desired)
3 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

++Directions:++

In a medium saucepan, mix together rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Add beet whenever desired, if using. Rhubarb should be broken down and have a syrupy jam consistency.

Combine egg yolks and zest. Gradually temper eggs with about 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture, drizzling the hot mixture in very slowly. Return saucepan to heat and, stirring continuously, stream in the yolk/zest mixture. When thoroughly mixed, cook over medium-high heat for another 3 minutes. Remove beet wedges when the time is right. What time is it? TOOL TIME!

If desired, puree mixture; I used an immersion blender for this step. It works very well for blending in any undissolved lumps of cornstarch.

After cooling slightly, pour into the pre-cooked crust. Cool to room temperature.

Meringue

++Ingredients:++

1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. water
5 egg whites (I used 6 because my eggs were small)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 drop red food coloring (if desired)

++Directions:++

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar at high speed until egg whites reach soft peaks. Add drop of food coloring if desired. Slowly, with the mixer on medium speed, pour in sugar syrup in a thin stream. When all sugar syrup has been added, beat egg whites on high speed to stiff peaks.

Spoon meringue onto cooled pie filling and make sure to completely seal the edges or the meringue with the crust, leaving no filling exposed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the pie for 8-10 minutes, until the meringue is lightly browned.

Cool before moving – or you will have a mess on your hands.

Bon appetit! {Mazel tov!?}