For the love of rhubarb: Cookbook author to sign books at festival

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Writer, singer and historian Tinky Weisblat knows a thing or two about rhubarb — after all, it is her favorite food.

She'll be signing copies of her newly published "Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb," her third cookbook, at the 5th annual Lenox Rhubarb Festival on Saturday. (She purposely timed the debut of her latest cookbook with rhubarb season in the Berkshires.) Weisblat promised she would bring nibbles to the festival, "which probably won't last long," she said in a recent phone interview.

The title for her latest cookbook reflects one of Weisblat's philospohies, "Love and laughter have to go with cooking always — or life and food don't taste very good."

Weisblat grew up spending summers in the Berkshires, and after earning bachelor, master and doctorate degrees, she returned to the Berkshires, doing freelance writing for The Berkshire Eagle and other publications in the 1990s. One day, a friend at Avery's General Store Charlemont ("my main emporium in Charlemont," Weisblat said.) mentioned another friend, a food editor at The Boston Globe, was looking for a freelance food writer.

"If you're a freelance writer, you say yes, no matter what the subject is," Weisblat said. "Food is a wonderful thing to write about. You can relate anything to food."

And so, her food writing career was launched. Her first column for The Globe was about one of her passions — rhubarb. But she didn't always love rhubarb. Despite being urged by her mother and grandmother to give it a try, Weisblat resisted. And then, one day in the 1990s, she stewed some rhubarb and discovered she liked it. Since then, she said, rhubarb has been her favorite food.

She admits she killed two rhubarb patches, but has high hopes for the latest one. "My neighbors are very generous with their rhubarb. I'm the Blanche DuBois of Hawley, I'm always depending on the kindness of strangers and friends."

She said the recipes in "Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb," came from friends and some recipes she adapted. "I also use a lot of cranberries. They and rhubarb have a similar flavor profile, so I adapt recipes back and forth between them."

Weisblat said she has tested each and every recipe in "Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb." "I think you have to," she said. "If I make it twice and it doesn't come out, I move on." She added the one exception was her recipe for rhubarb pizza. "I simply wanted rhubarb pizza; as a concept, it appealed to me. I tried it and tried it, and tried it until it was right."

Asked what her favorite rhubarb dishes from her cookbook were, Weisblat shot back, "Whatever one I just ate!" before narrowing it down to rhubarb pizza, rhubarb pound cake and strawberry-rhubarb spinach salad.

Weisblat said she is looking at a second volume of rhubarb recipes, "I have so many more," she said. But next on her agenda is a cookbook of funeral foods — foods you bring to the bereaved and to the after-the-funeral reception. "I think I'll call it 'Foods to Die For,' " she said with a laugh.

But not everyone likes rhubarb. For those people, Weisblat suggested making something on the sweet side, like her rhubarb meringue bars or rhubarb with cocoa, rich brownies with rhubarb jam swirled on top. "An NPR reporter's 9-year-old daughter told me, 'They're the best brownies I've ever had.'"

Weisblat shared her recipe for rhubarb salsa. "People always ask if it's really rhubarb."

Rhubarb salsa

INGREDIENTS:


2 cups finely chopped rhubarb

1/2-inch ginger root, peeled and chopped

3 to 4 tablespoons minced sweet onion, (i.e. red onion or Vidalia)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 yellow bell pepper finely chopped,

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 handful cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime

2 teaspoons honey

salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

DIRECTIONS:

Place the rhubarb and the ginger in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Pour boiling water over them. Return the water to just a boil; then remove the pan from the heat. Drain the rhubarb and ginger, and pour cold water over them to stop them from cooking longer.

In a bowl, combine rhubarb and ginger, onion, garlic, peppers and cilantro.

In a small bowl, combine the citrus juice and honey. Stir in the salt. Add this liquid to the rhubarb mixture and stir well.

Refrigerate the salsa for at least an hour before serving. Or just dig in! (Sometimes a person can't wait.)

Serve with chips; over crackers and cream cheese; or with chicken, pork or fish. The salsa may also be combined with tortilla chips and cheddar cheese to make nachos.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups salsa.


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