The Birth Of A New Recipe

Botticelli's Birth of Venus (photo: FLORENCEandTUSCANYtours/ Flickr)

People always ask me how I come up with recipes. After 14 cookbooks, countless articles, newspaper pieces and blog posts, it’s a good question.

How does one create a “new” recipe — is there really anything that qualifies as new? How does one continue to be creative and push oneself to make work that is better and better? I suppose these are questions you could ask any painter or sculptor or choreographer.

Here’s the story behind the birth of one “new” recipe.

Driving home from the farmers market yesterday, my bags filled with a locally-raised chicken, just-picked asparagus, goat yogurt, granola and spring spinach, I realized this may just be the finest time of year. (My ‘appreciation meter’ is way up after a winter of trying to eat well, eat locally and ward off the cold drab of a New England winter.)

Good friends were coming up from Boston and I imagined the meal: I would roast the chicken at high heat, scattered with all the herbs sprouting up in the garden, and stuff the bird with a lemon and splash of whatever wine we chose to open. The spinach would be sautéed with olive oil and spring garlic with a touch of garlic chives and sea salt.

But as I turned the corner on my road home, I realized I hadn’t thought about dessert. I am trying to wean myself off processed sugar so dessert was the last thing on my mind. I passed the old farmhouse on the corner and saw a big bucket on the front lawn offering free rhubarb.

Gifts come from unexpected places.

Photo: Kathy Gunst

I pulled over and grabbed a handful of the slender, pinkish-green stalks. I said a silent thank you to the empty farmhouse. Rhubarb, the first fruit of spring, is puckerishly sour. It demands a sweet counterpoint, a balancer. But what to do? By the time I got home, a mere 1/2 mile later, I had a plan.

Earlier, at the market, a friend handed me a gift: a single jar of jelly. She told me that she “wasn’t a brilliant jam and jelly maker,” but that this batch of strawberry jam was the best she ever made. She said she only had a few jars, and wanted me to have one. I was so touched. Having someone give you a jar of something they made in their kitchen is, in my opinion, the finest gift one can receive. It’s like handing someone love.

I cut the rhubarb on the diagonal into thin ½ inch slices and threw them into a pot. There must have been about 3 cups worth. I drizzled about 1/4 cup of maple syrup  (the syrup my husband just made in March) over the rhubarb, along with 2 tablespoons of water, and let it stew over a very low heat. I wanted the rhubarb to release its own juice — a spring tonic.

While we ate the roast chicken (so tender and lemony) and the sautéed spinach to the side, the rhubarb transformed from celery stalk-like crunch into a silky soft, pink fruit mixture. I took the goat yogurt bought at market and spooned the stewed rhubarb on top, then drizzled on a touch of maple syrup. I opened the jar of Rebekah’s strawberry jam and inhaled the sweet fruit aroma, marvelling at the perfectly intact, tiny strawberries she had grown on her farm. Then I placed a dollop of the sweet red mixture on the rhubarb. Just right — creamy, smooth, tart, sweet and bursting with the flavors of spring. A new favorite dessert was born.

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