Rhubarb compote with vanilla bean

My rhubarb memories center around a table in a red farmhouse outside Columbus, Ohio. That was where I had my first slice of homemade rhubarb pie. And this was a house known for its pie. A pie chart was taped to the back of the kitchen door – a literal one, listing the family’s favorite pies and their votes, tallied up with hatch marks.

In this same house I obtained a small stack of recipes one day when I asked how I could use the rhubarb weighing down a sack I had filled from their many rhubarb plants. Using a steak knife from the kitchen drawer I sliced the stalks close to the ground, like my friend showed me, and sawed off the enormous leaves.

Not having grown up with a garden, everything on that property seemed magical to me. Rhubarb still does. Maybe because it’s still a seasonal food, one I almost always get from friends and never see in the produce aisle during the off-season. There’s the pleasing tartness that’s only just tempered when you add something sweet. And stalks that are the red and green of a marquee sign.

But before we dive in too far, let me share pictures from another magical garden I visited with my daughter’s class yesterday. Indulge me – it’s spring!

So, then. This compote was simple, simple to make. I opted enthusiastically for the orange zest (cara cara). But the best part was the vanilla bean. I feel a little sheepish about this, but yesterday was the first time I’d ever split one open myself. I didn’t realize this because how many times have I read that you’re supposed to split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife?  But yesterday I was surprised to see a black paste when I was expecting something like immature peas. Now, just like the time when the re-upholsterer pointed out how much better feather pillows are than synthetic ones, I feel like I can’t go back. The vanilla flavor is matchless and it speckles the tart pink compote with tiny black dots.

Rhubarb Compote with Vanilla Bean
by Chie

Rhubarb is really a vegetable, although I’ve always used it as if it were a
fruit. One summer I was caring for a friend’s garden full of rhubarb,
strawberries, peas and greens. That was the first time that I’d thought to use
rhubarb. I thought I’d try out a simple cobbler – a strawberry rhubarb cobbler.
Boy, it was so fragrant, sweet and tart. I wanted to try out more things and
since then I’ve made compote and ice cream. This compote can be eaten just
like it is, in plain yogurt, as a crepe filling, on ice cream or on chicken and white
fish.  Just last week The Olympia Food Co-op received the first local delivery
from Pigman’s this year. The season of abundance is just around the corner.

3 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
¼ c honey
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange, navel, valencia, cara cara, etc. (optional)

Place the rhubarb, honey and salt in a medium pan. Let it sit for 30 minutes
to let the juices come out. It will cook down to the consistency of applesauce.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back
of the knife. Add the pod and seeds to the pot along with the orange zest.
Bring it to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 12 minutes or until tender.

If using vanilla extract, add at this time. Cool in the pot and adjust taste as desired.
The compote will thicken as it cools.

I like to eat it cooled to enjoy the full flavor of the rhubarb. Store for up to 2 days
in the refrigerator. Enjoy!


Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Add 1-2 cups chopped fresh strawberries when bringing to a boil. Follow the
rest of the recipe. Adjust the amount of strawberries depending on much
berry flavor you’d like.

Rhubarb Citrus Compote
Add navel orange or grapefruit: 1 T zest and flesh of 3 oranges or segments
from 1 grapefruit (without the pith, which will make it bitter). Add citrus after
the rhubarb has simmered for 5 minutes and just started to soften.

Both variations will be more liquidy than the straight rhubarb.

21 thoughts on “Rhubarb compote with vanilla bean

    • So lovely of you to say so, thanks! I don’t know if it’s the fact that we finally have fresh produce again or not, but I was swooning over this one.

  1. This is lovely. To me, rhubarb seems so old-fashioned, and I’m glad to see it seems to be having a revival. I grew up on a farm, and it was well-used by my mother and other farm women. Strawberry rhubarb pie was especially popular. I’ve had an idea for a rhubarb compote running through my mind, and now here it is! I’m sure it would be excellent over vanilla ice cream, made with a real vanilla bean.

    • Oh my gosh, this would be divine on ice cream! I agree with you, there’s something salt-of-the-earth about rhubarb. Hope you enjoy some of your own compote soon!

      • Just wanted to let you know that I’ve made this and am blogging about it today. I’ll provide a link back to your post, of course! As it turns out, my 21-month-old granddaughter just adores this compote – her mum gives it to her for dessert. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

          • Thanks again. My daughter told me she read the post with Avery on her lap, and she kept saying “mmmm.” I think I’ll have to take them some more!

  2. Can’t say that I’ve taken to rhubarb, probably because the couple of pies I’ve sampled along the way were, um, well, they didn’t stir my juices, unlike your Ohioan treats inspired you. Your compote on the other hand … Remind me to tell you about the rouille we made to go with my birthday bouillabaise last weekend. No exotic ingredients, just a fabulous flavour I’ve never experienced before – just like so many of your/Chie’s dishes. Keep it up!

    • I’d love to hear about the rouille, Pat! Hm. Sounds like we need to have a rhubarbfest to try and find a way for you to enjoy it. Have you tried it in combination with a fruit?

  3. Gorgeous shot of the ladies mantle! We grew up eating rhubarb from the garden – rhubarb compote (yours sounds amazing) – in pies, jam, and my mom made a divine frozen rhubarb yoghurt pie. I love your blog – I am always reminded of my childhood!

    • Hope you do try some of them, Maya! This compote was rich and lovely. Wish I could take some credit but, no, all that goes to my blogging partner, Chie. She’s the recipe maven :)

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