Known as hiwidchuls by traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters, canagria (literally “sour cane”) by Spanish-speaking amigos, Rumex hymenosepalus by science nerds, Arizona dock by herbalists, and wild rhubarb by those who might know its relatives in northern climes, this rarely-seen tuberous perennial has responded gloriously to our winter rainfall. It is currently bedecking the riverbanks along the Pantano, Rillito and Santa Cruz where Native People have gathered it probably for millennia. But it won’t be there for long–so act now if you want a tangy-sweet treat!
Tia Marta here to share a fun recipe that celebrates this short-lived desert food: Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake. (If you seek a rationalization to counter sugars and fat, check out its available Calcium, plus helpful soluble and insoluble fiber.)
Wild rhubarb leaves can be boiled twice to eat as greens. The plant also has many important uses other than food–tannins for medicine, dye from its root, and food for a native butterfly. Read more about hiwidchuls in my February 2017 savor-post using rhubarb as the keyword in the SearchBox above.
I’ve used other ingredients in this recipe from our Baja Arizona palette of delicious heirlooms to make it super-local.
RECIPE FOR WILD ARIZONA RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (“Skillet Cake”):
Preheat oven to 350F.
Into an iron skillet, melt 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter.
Stir in and stir until dissolved 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar. (I use 1 cup to balance the rhubarb’s lemony sourness.)
Place diced wild rhubarb on top of butter/sugar mixture (as in photos above).
To make batter, sift together: 3/4 cup White Sonora Wheat flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour (e.g.Bob’s Red Mill)
1/4 cup mesquite meal
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of sea salt.
Separate 4 eggs, yokes from whites to beat separately. Beat egg whites gradually with 1 cup sugar and whip until stiff.
Add 1 Tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp vanilla to beaten egg yokes. Fold egg yoke and whites mixture together then gradually add sifted flour mixture. Pour batter over the still warm or hot rhubarb in skillet. Bake about 30 minutes or until it tests done. To serve right away, place a pizza pan or plate on top of the skillet bottom side up, then carefully turn the paired pans over. Your warm cake will drop easily onto the inverted (now right-side-up) plate. Remove the skillet carefully. To gild the lily, you can garnish your cake top with whipped cream. Enjoy the zippy tang and good nutrition of a wild rhubarb upside-down-cake made with our special heirloom wheat, mesquite, and amaranth!
For access to heirloom products and artwork of heirlooms from Flor de Mayo, check out NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and catalog, and museum shops at Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park. And visit my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com. (Enter your favorite native food word and find great recipes at this very blog–search box at top right.) Enjoy every bite of flavor with gifts from our beloved Sonoran Desert!