Nanny’s Rhubarb Cake

Rhubarb cake by the Bluenose Baker

This rhubarb cake recipe comes from my Nanny, my Dad’s mother. Nan was known for her baking, and a number of her recipes are on my “to blog sometime” list. I’ve thought about sharing some of them before but haven’t been able to find the words to talk about her. But I have a big patch of ripe rhubarb in my backyard and it’s been almost exactly a year since she died so today you are getting rhubarb cake and Nanny stories!

I grew up in the house next door to Nanny, and consequently spent time with her almost every single day until I went away to university. I loved hanging out at her house, quilting and baking with her, or watching The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune. Many of my memories of Nanny’s house revolve around food: sugar cookies, molasses cookies, cupcakes and freezies (winter or summer, there were always some in the freezer!) She used the produce from our garden in as many ways as she could – I always hated the smell in the kitchen after she’d made pickles or chow! We had a big patch of rhubarb and she always made a rhubarb cake for my dad.

I never stopped talking as a kid, and Nan always listened patiently to my ramblings. The last few years, as I became more interested in cooking and baking, she always wanted to hear about what I was making (and how my cat was doing!)

Nan died peacefully last June at the age of 91. She never saw my blog become a reality, but I know she’d be proud of it. Whenever someone in the family was in the newspaper, it immediately went on her fridge, and later her bulletin board at the nursing home. She loved seeing her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids in print! I miss Nan every day, but making her recipes makes me feel close to her.

Seeing as it’s Father’s Day, I suppose I should throw a Dad reference in here! I made this cake for my dad when my parents came up for supper and he said it tasted exactly like Nan’s!

For the rhubarb cake, you’ll need flour, baking soda, salt, milk or buttermilk, shortening, brown sugar, an egg, vanilla and rhubarb. You’ll also need white sugar and cinnamon for the topping (I really need to read ahead when I get ingredients out!)

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Start by dicing up the rhubarb. You need ¾ of a cup, which is about 4 stalks, depending on their size. I split the stalks in half lengthwise ( I quartered the really fat stalks) and then cut into small pieces.

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This time of year, you can find rhubarb at grocery stores or farmers markets if it’s not growing in your yard. However, it’s a relatively low maintenance crop so I definitely suggest planting some if you have room. It’s pretty cool that these stalks were in the ground 20 minutes before they were in the cake. I have high hopes that I will be baking and cooking with lots of produce from my own garden this summer…but I have to keep it alive that long!

The recipe calls for “sour milk” and hearkens back to a day when they actually would have used milk that had gone sour. I don’t recommend that! ”Sour” your milk by putting a teaspoon of vinegar into a measuring cup, and filling it with milk to the ¼ cup mark. Set the milk aside to “sour” while you prepare the rest of the batter. You could also use buttermilk.

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Whisk the flour, soda and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream the shortening and brown sugar together in a large bowl. You could use a stand mixer; I chose to do it by hand today.

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Beat the egg in a small bowl and then add it to the batter along with the vanilla.

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It will look clumpy and weird at first, keep stirring and the batter will eventually smooth out. A few lumps are ok.

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By now, the milk should look lumpy and curdled. That’s the vinegar doing its job!

Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter and stir, followed by about ½ of the milk. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour. Stir until smooth and scrape down the sides if necessary.

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Add the rhubarb and stir until it’s evenly distributed.

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Pour the batter into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan or an 8 inch pie plate. Spread it evenly into the pan and smooth the top.

For the topping, stir the white sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl.

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Sprinkle it evenly over the top of the cake – it’ll be pretty thoroughly covered!

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Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, until the edges are browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.

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As a kid, I didn’t like rhubarb and wouldn’t eat the cake, but I loved how it looked with the cinnamon sugar on top. It always reminded me of the “sand pies” I would make at the beach!

Cool before slicing into 9 pieces.

Nanny’s Rhubarb Cake

  • Servings: 9
  • Time: Prep: 30 min, Bake: 25 min
  • Print

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup sour milk (1 teaspoon vinegar + enough milk to make 1/4 cup) or buttermilk
  • ¾ cup diced rhubarb

Topping:

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Dice rhubarb and set aside.

If using sour milk, ”sour” your milk by putting a teaspoon of vinegar into a measuring cup, and filling it with milk to the ¼ cup mark. Set the milk aside to “sour” while you prepare the rest of the batter.

Whisk the flour, soda and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream the shortening and brown sugar together in a large bowl or with a stand mixer.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and then add it to the batter along with the vanilla. Stir until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk.

Add the rhubarb and stir until it’s evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan or an 8 inch pie plate. Spread it evenly into the pan and smooth the top.

For the topping, stir the white sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle it evenly over the top of the cake – it’ll be pretty thoroughly covered!

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, until the edges are browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.

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