I grew up in the country in an old farm house on 12+ acres of land. And while I have become a city girl, much of that country has stayed with me. One of the things I miss is the fresh vegetables from my mom’s garden. Fortunately, I have that enormous farmer’s market just down the street every Saturday.
But even when my mom didn’t grow a garden, there was rhubarb. I don’t know where the rhubarb plant came from. It wasn’t in the area we tilled up for the vegetable garden each year, or really near anything else we hand intentionally planted. Maybe it was there when my parents bought the land. Or maybe they planted it before I can remember. But every spring it returned, in its spot right next to the well house. For you city dwellers, that’s the ancient little wooden structure that covers the well, and in our case also houses some gardening tools. And is the place where your father spends much of his time replacing the pump because of some bizarre wiring debacle that causes it to break every year or so.
Side tangent: if you’ve always had city water, your water comes to you by the gracious nature of gravity. You never think about the fact that a well has a pump, and so when the power goes out, there is no water pressure. I don’t miss that. Or the taste after it started getting really hard. Or the rust-colored iron deposits it left in my hair.
Anyway, that rhubarb came up every year, and I’ve always appreciated that tart flavor. Despite being more than a little scared of it, after I was warned as a small child about the poisonous leaves.
For most of my life rhubarb was only eaten in the form of strawberry-rhubarb pie. Which is fantastic. Then several years go I traveled to scenic Maine with my mother, and we ate breakfast in this bright and cozy little cafe in Bar Harbor. Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast is just what it says on the tin. As a bonus, they make a perfectly tangy and sweet strawberry-rhubarb fruit spread for your toast.
So when spring came this year, I was inspired by rhubarb. But I don’t make pies. So I thought of that chilly fall morning by the ocean in Maine, and the little diner that was crowded despite it being the end of the season, and I knew at once that I wanted that tart yet sweet flavor in my cupcakes.
I’m not going to post the recipe, because while these were scrumptious, I’m not sold on the cupcake part. I wanted a strawberry cupcake with the strawberry-rhubarb filling, and some light whipped cream on top. The strawberry-rhubarb compote was magnificent. The stabilized whipped cream frosting was creamy and light and piped like a dream. But the cupcakes were a little too dense and a little lacking in strawberry flavor.
It was a new recipe, since my strawberry cake recipe is great for cakes, but not so great for cupcakes. But it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so the search continues.