Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm

Rhubarb season marks the beginning of summer for my husband Richard and I at Little Ghent Farm. It is the first fruit to appear after the dark days of winter, signaling the beginning of picnic season, and we are delighted to do as much as possible with it. This particular recipe is one of our favorites as it is so versatile and can be eaten any time of day. You can make it as bars, as we do here at our farm store Made in Ghent, or as a cake for a different presentation. We also switch up the fruit as rhubarb season passes and move on to using gooseberries, blueberries, peaches, and plums — they are all delicious. (We just change some of the spices or flavors to complement the different fruit.)

Our favorite place to picnic might be right here at Little Ghent Farm or at one of the wonderful Columbia Land Conservancy spaces in the surrounding area, such as Ooms Pond or the Greenport Conservation area. We buy our polenta (or grits) when we can from Starling Yards Farm in Red Hook as they have amazing heirloom corn that is delicious and the most beautiful colors. Our rhubarb we get from our neighbor George, but Blue Star Farm, our main produce supplier, also has rhubarb that we get when we need even more of it.

To accompany our picnic, we might make a soda using the syrup left over from cooking the rhubarb by adding it to seltzer or sparkling water. Alternatively, we would make an elderflower cordial and have that with it.

Mimi Beaven and her husband, Richard, are the owners of Made in Ghent, a working farm, farm store, bakery, and gathering place raising woodland pigs, pasture-raised laying hens, and meat chickens in Ghent, NY. Their farm store and commercial kitchen sell simple and delicious food made entirely with local produce. Visit their website to learn all about the farm’s beginnings, sign up for an informative workshop, or to book an escape at their newly designed open-plan Airbnb farm stay.

  • Ingredients:
  • For the Filling
    1 pound 2 ounces rhubarb
    2 ounces sugar
    4 tablespoons water or orange juice
  • For the Crust
    3/4 cup coarse polenta
    1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 pinch cinnamon (optional)
    3/4 cup sugar
    Grated zest of one orange
    1 1/4 sticks, cut into small pieces
    1 large egg
    1-2 tablespoons milk
    1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com

Recipe:
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars
Makes 9 bars

Steps:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F

2. Line a 8–9” square baking pan with parchment paper that has been buttered and floured.

3. Trim the rhubarb stems and cut into short lengths. Place them in an ovenproof dish.

4. Sprinkle the sugar and juice (or water) over the rhubarb and bake for 20–30 minutes until the pieces are tender, but still intact.

5. Remove the rhubarb from the dish and drain over a colander. Save the syrup that drains off.

6. Place the polenta, flour, baking powder, cinnamon (if using) and sugar in a food processor along with the orange zest and butter. Pulse briefly until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

7. In a medium bowl, break the egg and combine with the breadcrumb-like mixture and pulse until it comes together as slightly sticky, clumpy dough. (Add a little milk if it is not so sticky.)

8. Using your knuckles, press about 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared tin, pushing it slightly up the sides and making sure there are no cracks.

9. Put the drained rhubarb on top, careful to not let it touch the sides of the tin, otherwise the juice will burn and stick to the pan’s edges, making it tricky to remove.

10. Add the remaining polenta dough in lumps with your fingers. Some fruit should show through.

11. Dust with Demerara sugar and bake for 45–50 mins. It should be starting to color and crisp a little on top without the edges of the pan taking on too much color.

12. Allow it to cool before removing from tin and cutting into squares.

Notes
Use the reserved syrup to make a refreshing soda by adding 1 part syrup to 4–5 parts seltzer or sparkling water. A cocktail works, too!

If making a cake, use a buttered 9” springform pan lined with parchment paper.

Fruit Alterations
Gooseberries: Use water rather than orange juice (strain the syrup off as above); use lemon zest instead of orange zest; leave out the cinnamon

Blueberries: Use them raw in the assembly part of the recipe; use lemon zest instead of orange zest

Peaches: Use them raw, just remove the pits and slice them

Plums: Use them raw, just remove the pits and slice them; substitute the cinnamon for cardamom.

Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Bars from Mimi Beaven of Little Ghent Farm. andnorth.com
Jam Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Rosemary Butter from Tracy Kennard of Brunette. andnorth.com

When the weather hits perfect temperatures, we can’t help but move the meal outdoors. This is why we asked three upstate cooks to share their favorite recipes that taste best spread out on a blanket with friends and loved ones. Portable and delicious, these simple recipes are sure to inspire your next summer excursion and have you packing a picnic basket in no time. Visit our features to learn how to make Tracy Kennard’s jam sandwich and Sarah Copeland’s radish and navy bean salad. Happy picnicking!

Photo by Emma Tuccillo and Katie Lobel