When early summer hits Minnesota, it’s rhubarb time! While these tart stalks originated in China, where they were used largely for medicinal effects, they are considered the first fruit (vegetable?) of summer in the Midwest. Rhubarb is easy to grow, requiring only sun and a fertile soil. (My patch was planted on top of a former compost pile.) You need to let your rhubarb plant develop two or three years before harvesting stalks, but once you get past the three-year mark, you can harvest away.
These bars are my own creation, based on a similar recipe that I found once on Cooks.com that involves pumpkin. (The recipe does not seem to be on the site anymore, but garden blogger Kylee Baumee makes them, too.) I made the rhubarb variation first when my daughters were still in school and I was a “Drama Mama.” The Drama Mamas helped out with theater productions at our local high school and sold treats and coffee at intermission to raise funds for the drama programs. The Drama Mamas have a reputation for providing really stellar bars, and these got lots of applause from the local critics. I hope you enjoy them, too!
Best Ever Rhubarb Bars
This recipe has three sections. It can be assembled in about 30 minutes, then baked for 45 to 55 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1 box yellow cake mix (remove 1/2 cup for topping)
1/2 cup butter, very soft
Take out 1/2 cup of cake mix for topping and set aside. Mix the butter into the rest of the cake mix, then add the egg and mix. You will have a stiff dough. Spread the dough in a 9 by 13 inch pan using damp fingers. I put a slight lip on the edges to keep the filling from over-flowing.
3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 4 large stalks) — I slit the stalks lengthwise, then chop in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional, but good)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup of milk, half-and-half or whipping cream — depending on how wild you are feeling.
Whisk eggs with a hand whisk, then add brown sugar, flour, spices and salt and whisk again. Gradually whisk in liquid. Fold in rhubarb. Pour mixture over the crust layer, making sure the rhubarb bits are evenly distributed.
1/2 cup reserved cake mix
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Mix topping ingredients together to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle on top of filling.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Enjoy plain or with some whipped cream or ice cream on top.