Bourbon Baked Rhubarb

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Rhubarb is a pretty new food for me. Strawberry-rhubarb pie is something I was vaguely aware of for many years but never really ate. And I never considered making something rhubarb on its own. I mean, it’s really bitter raw and sort of poisonous (the leaves are toxic) and who makes rhubarb pie? No one that I knew.

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Well, actually, that’s not really true. I loved the Little House on the Prairie Series growing up and in one of the books, Laura makes pie using “pie plant.” She is embarrassed because she accidentally makes the pie without sugar and is worried because pie plant is really tart if it’s not sweetened. But I love tart food so I was immediately curious about pie plant and where I could find some. Sadly, I first read about it before the internet was the answer-to-all-things that it is now and I sort of forget about it for a while. Then about a year ago I stumbled across the book again and looked it up. Turns out pie plant is rhubarb – it was made into pies and pretty much nothing else for so many years that it took on that nickname.

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Rhubarb pie is pretty delicious but if the filling is delicious then why not skip the pie crust step sometimes and just have the filling, right? This preparation of rhubarb is pretty similar to how I make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and in both cases baking the fruit with sugar and bourbon softens both the rhubarb and the harsh tartness it has.

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Is rhubarb botanically a fruit? Nope, you eat the stalk which makes it a vegetable according to nature. But legally, in the United States, it’s a fruit for the purpose of taxes and other import duties. The law is so weird.

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This would probably make a fantastic pie filling with it’s beautiful pink-purple color and balance of sweet and tart. But honestly I haven’t gotten that far. I’ve been spooning it up on yogurt, shortcakes, or just plain. Forget the strawberries; this beauty can stand on its own two feet.

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Bourbon Baked Rhubarb
Inspired by Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison

1 lb rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup sugar
¼ cup bourbon
1 vanilla bean , split and scraped, or 2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Place the cut up rhubarb pieces into a 9 by 13 baking dish. Sprinkle with the sugar. If using the vanilla add the seeds or extract to the bourbon and pour evenly over the sugar. Mix the sugar, rhubarb, and bourbon together until evenly distributed.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes until the sugar dissolves, the rhubarb gives off some juice, and the mixture is bubbly. Remove from the oven and give the mixture a stir to fully incorporate the caramelized edges with the rest of the rhubarb. Serve any way you like with pretty much anything sweet.

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