One of my joys of summer is cooking and eating rhubarb. My garden is prolific with the tart-tasting vegetable. I gently pull out the edible leaf stalks, selecting the sweeter red ones and discarding the leaves, to make pies, pavlovas, cakes, compotes, and crumbles using recipes from every country in Europe.
A few years ago when I was visiting Strasbourg, France, doing research for my book Quiches, Kugels and Couscous, My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, it seemed that every Jewish cook I visited served me a rhubarb tart topped with a custard, unlike American rhubarb pies, which almost always marry rhubarb with the sweeter strawberry.
Earlier this summer I was delighted to taste a delicious Alsatian rhubarb tart at a weekly potluck Torah study group on Martha’s Vineyard. The woman who brought the flaky-crusted dessert had just discovered that her grandmother, who came from Alsace, was Jewish. The tart was exactly like those I had tasted at Jewish homes in France except for the addition of Crisco, that American vegetable-based substitute for lard. (When Crisco hit the market in 1910, it was so popular that Procter & Gamble advertised that “the Hebrew race had been waiting for Crisco for 4,000 years.”)
This tart is delicious and, if you like strawberries with your rhubarb, just serve them on the side with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.