As the weather warms and locally-grown produce begins to arrive at our grocery stores and farmers’ markets, I feel like I am reuniting with old friends. It has only been the last few years that I paid much attention to when various produce was in season. Partially due to economics, in season foods are often less expensive. Partially due to an awakening palate, they tend to have a more vibrant flavor. Mostly I was paying attention to seasonality because I was paying attention to everything I was cooking and eating and a desire to learn as much about food as possible. (Perhaps if I am being truly honest a tiny bit of my interest in when foods were in season stemmed from a desire to be a trendy locavore. But – The afore mentioned reasons are why I remain, hungrily, interested.)
Last Saturday we packed up and went to a local farmers’ market. I was a woman on a mission and my mission was bringing home a bag full of rhubarb. With the sun nearly shining and no rain in the forecast, the market was bustling. As we joined the crowd I gleefully observed that many of the produce stalls had heaps of the vibrant ruby stalks on display. I did a lap before heading back to one of the stalls to fill one of my eco-friendly reusable sacks. Not a single stalk was smaller than two feet long and crimson from leaf base to root tip. I put one after another into my bag already lost in thoughts of stewing, poaching, and baking. It took quite a bit of self control to stop before my bag was actually full. When I lifted my bag onto the produce scale it registered just above 5 pounds.
Rhubarb: “In culinary use, fresh raw stalks are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong tart taste. Most commonly the plant’s stalks are cooked with sugar and used in pies and other desserts.” - Wikipedia
We picked up a few other treats and had a decadent lunch of Indian food nested in a piece of fluffy Nan bread that was baked right before our eyes. Leaving the market toting my rhubarb, I bubbled with recipe ideas to try in the coming week, and I may also have felt a little bit smug.
Making the Compote
First thing Sunday morning, I set to work on my first rhubarb creation. A humble compote of rhubarb and navel orange, it elevated our breakfast from blurry-eyed to sunny brunch. While Mr. Second Helpings brewed the coffee, I set to work making a batch of waffles with my favorite Fiber One Complete Pancake mix and some pumpkin puree in place of the recommended vegetable oil (see Pumpkin Pancakes on a Winter Morning for a similar recipe).
To begin the compote I diced three rhubarb stalks into cubes around 3/4 of an inch across and tossed them into my favorite 3 quart pot. Next I grabbed a navel orange and zested about a table spoon worth of rind into the pot over the cubes before slicing away the rind and removing the orange segments within. I cut away all the white bits and removed the membranes so that only the juicy fruit remained (here’s a how-to video). I broke the segments into a couple of pieces each and dropped them into the pot. Finally I eyeballed about 1/2 a cup of Sucralose (Splenda) and added about 1/3 of a cup of water.
To cook, I brought the pot to a boil and then reduced the heat to medium low and put on the lid. While the compote bubbled and simmered I started cooking the waffles, stirring the fruit in between pouring batter and removing the piping hot pastries. By the time all the waffles were done the tart and fibrous rhubarb and the sweet and acidic orange had broken down into a sticky sweet soup.
The flavor reminded me of a cranberry sauce; a full-bodied balance of sweet and tart. We all spooned it over our waffles that managed to stay warm through a diaper change and a photo shoot (unrelated activities). I thought briefly about spreading a little plain greek yogurt over my waffle for a sort of pumpkin waffle / rhubarb danish combo but decided not to go too crazy. Don’t worry though, Little Helping and I had some over yogurt and oatmeal this morning and will probably have it again tomorrow, and maybe the next day.