Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake : An Heirloom Recipe

by Ginny on May 11, 2011

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(This Post was originally published on my previous blog, Food-G.)

About 5 years ago I hijacked my mother’s recipe boxes, and combed through them in an effort to compile the recipes of my childhood. There were scalloped potatoes with ham, always prepared in mom’s yellow bowl. And Grandma Nan’s marinated leg of lamb, a fixture on Easter Sunday, with little Irish potatoes, peeled and roasted to a mahogany brown in the rich pan drippings. Something in me knew that it was critical to possess this knowledge, to be able to recreate the flavors and cooking smells of these recipes, long after their authors are gone.

One thing led to another and soon aunts, uncles, and cousins were filling my inbox with recipes that begged to be arranged in a family cookbook. We all knew the taste of Grossmamma’s Lebkuchen cookies, or Grandma Louise’s Springerli. And what about Grandpa Bill’s barbecued chicken, prepared on his cast iron kettle grill at the cabin in West Branch? These are the Midwestern, no-nonsense flavors of our family tree. A salamagundi of our German and Irish heritage, heavily influenced by the hearty home cooking of our beloved Great Lake State.

It became a yearlong project, and finishing it has proved to me over and over that sometimes our greatest contributions involve no income or fame. I typed up over a hundred recipes, including any family history or anecdotes available. I received wonderful stories about hunting camp, and the hotel where my mom, aunt, and uncle grew up while their dad was running it. I was given recipes I had never tasted, but that were a part of our parent’s childhoods. I bought binders, tabs, and sheet protectors, and set up an assembly line on our dining room table. They were finished just in time for Christmas.

My relatives tell me that their copies of the Family Cookbook are well-used, as is mine. It was the first place I looked when I discovered the stalks of ruby red rhubarb growing in the yard of our new home. If anyone would know how to resourcefully use it up, and in a way that could be shared with friends and neighbors, it would be my Grandmothers and/or Great Grandmothers. They didn’t like to let things go to waste, not even a patch of rhubarb. I’m pretty sure I recognized Grandma Louise’s scrawl on the recipe card, but she didn’t directly take credit. Maybe it was one of those recipes shared by a friend, after they enjoyed a piece of cake together with a cup of black coffee. I’ll have to call my mom, and ask her if she remembers her mom baking this delicious cake. If there is a story there, I can’t wait to collect it for my own recipe box.

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Recipe: Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake

This cake has a surprisingly thick batter, almost like cookie dough. It yields a moist, dense cake, that perhaps accounts for the very high water content of rhubarb.


  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts– chef’s choice (I used walnuts)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup shortening or butter
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch lengths

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

In a small bowl combine first 4 ingredients for topping. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening or butter with brown sugar and egg. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with sour cream. Mix thoroughly. Add rhubarb and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with topping and bake 40 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Zanger May 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

O M G, Ginny! Just READING this and I’m drooling all over the laptop keyboard. We, too, discovered a clump of rhubarb in the backyard when we moved into our house. I’m definitely making this! Thank you. Thank YOU!


cassandra squibb May 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm

My rhubarb patch has been blessed by mother nature. Every year I can rely on it to produce more rhubarb than I know what to do with. This is hands down the best rhubarb recipe EVER. Thanks Ginny!!!


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