Friday, June 29, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Spiced Chai Tea Bread

My grandma, Anna Louise Crawford-Smoke, who passed away from a heart attack when I was in elementary school, loved to collect teapots and teacups.  Her father, my great-grandpa, who was a big game hunter, had traveled to Asia several times, bringing back a few tea sets for her, which she later gave to my mom.  I would have loved to know both of them as an adult, and compare stories about our travels to Asia; I'm sure our experiences, so many years apart, were quite different.

Although I never had the chance to know her well since she died when I was so young, we drove from South Carolina to Pennsylvania many winters to spend Christmas with her at the house where my dad grew up.

She loved dogs, Shelties (Shetland Sheepdogs) in particular, and had an interest in breeding and training them.  There was always a litter of puppies to play with, and one winter she let my brother and sister and I name the litter.  I remember naming one of them "Mr T" - a strange name for a puppy, but we loved watching the 80's TV series The A Team, and were fascinated by all the necklaces that Mr T wore, as well as his Mohawk hairstyle, and decided the name was fitting for one of the puppies - if my memory serves me right, he was the only black puppy in the litter.  Along with the puppies, there were usually at least 5-6 adult dogs running around the house, and a couple of cats.  The dogs would sometimes chase us across the front yard, and we'd pretend to be afraid as we climbed trees to escape them, even though we knew they didn't have a single mean bone in their bodies.

I only remember small details about the house.  A pink, flowered, cardboard set of drawers in the bathroom.  A bowl of hard candy in the corner of the living room that sat collecting dust year after year, their shiny wrappers turned dull.  The antique ornaments on the Christmas tree - I always wanted to help decorate, but my dad was afraid we would break something and so we were usually only allowed to watch.  The dark, cool basement with its shelves of toys from my dad and his three brothers' childhood and stacks of books like The Lone Ranger and the Tarzan series.

That was the house where my sister first saw snow at the age of 2 or 3, and after looking out the window at the white blanket outside, exclaimed, "Honey, someone made a big mess outside!"  In saying honey, she was addressing my parents, imitating the word she heard them often use when talking to each other.  Too cute.

My uncle John, the oldest of the four brothers and the one who lived in the house with my grandma, loved eating waffles with copious amounts of butter and maple syrup for breakfast.  There was always a bowl of sliced strawberries in the refrigerator, dripping with sugar, to scoop onto cereal.  Uncle John often fed the dogs milk over their dog food, and one day found my sister stuffing her face with dog food out of their bowls on the floor, thinking it was cereal.

But my favorite memory is of the fireplace.  It was double-sided so that one side faced the living room and the other the kitchen, and you could look through it to the other room.  There was always warmth in that house during the winter from the crackling fire.

One Christmas, I woke up early in the morning; Laura, Josh and I slept on a mattress on the living room floor, and I saw my grandma through the dancing flames in the fireplace, sitting at the kitchen table in her tattered bathrobe.  Still half asleep, I dragged a blanket into the kitchen and climbed onto her lap where I snuggled up close to her, while she read her Bible and drank weak, milky tea, just the way she liked it.

That's one of the only clear memories I have of her.  After her heart attack, my uncle John found her, already gone but still standing, slumped against the kitchen counter.  We went home from school early that day, and my parents told us the news.  My sister took it the hardest, being the oldest and having known her better, and also, it was her birthday.

We sat for a while in the living room, with its brown braided rug (I had a secret habit of sweeping dirt underneath that rug when given the task of sweeping), and a fire crackling in the black wood stove.  No one said much, and after we all cried for a while, I got up and made hot chocolate for everyone.  Even then, barely 8 years old, I found comfort in comforting others with something sweet to fill their stomachs.

The blue flowered teapot in these photos was one of grandma's, not from Asia, but just one she had collected from somewhere.  It's been sitting on top of my mom's kitchen cabinets for years, along with other teapots, but this one was always my favorite.  And now it's mine.

My parents are moving, after living in Colorado for over 20 years, back to South Carolina.  They're leaving this summer, and when I stopped by their house the other day after work to meet my dad for dinner, my mom told me that she had set this teapot aside to give to me before they finished packing everything up.

And so the next day, I made a pot of Chai tea in my "new" teapot, something that my grandma would certainly not have liked since she didn't care for anything too spicy or flavorful.  Plain, but strong, black or green tea is usually what I prefer, but Chai was what I was wanting on that day.  I brewed a combination of Sweet Thai Coconut Red Chai tea and Marsala Black Chai tea, steeping it in half milk and half water, with a touch of honey to sweeten it up.

While sipping tea and working at my computer, I thought of the rhubarb I'd brought home from Jamie's parents' garden.  I'd chopped and frozen the rhubarb for use throughout the summer, along with some strawberry rhubarb puree that I'd cooked down while making syrup.  I pulled out the puree and the chopped rhubarb to thaw, brewed some more tea in milk, and mixed up a batter for loaf bread.  To enhance the flavor of the tea, I added additional spices, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger.

I hope that someday I have a daughter who loves to cook with me, but even if she doesn't, then I simply hope that she finds something she is passionate about, something that makes her happy.  And I hope that I can give her this teapot to keep in her kitchen, and have her experience the love of a great-grandma she'll never know, through my memories.

Strawberry Rhubarb Spiced Chai Tea Bread
printable recipe
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 chai tea bags
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked strawberry rhubarb puree (recipe below)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spray two non-stick loaf pans with baking spray.

Bring the milk to a boil; add the tea bags and steep for 10 minutes.  Squeeze the tea bags to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the tea bags.

In a large bowl, combine the tea-infused milk, strawberry rhubarb puree, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Gradually add to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.  Bake at 350 for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then invert onto the wire rack.  Turn bread right side up on the wire rack and cover lightly with a clean kitchen towel to cool completely before slicing or wrapping.

Yields 2 loaves.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Rhubarb Strawberry Syrup (and puree)
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 3 cups chopped strawberries
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large stockpot, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, water, lemon juice and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Puree using a blender or immersion blender.  Add the cinnamon stick.  Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Pour mixture through a mesh strainer, getting as much liquid out as you can.  Pour the liquid and the cinnamon stick into a clean saucepan and simmer until thick and syrupy, about one more hour.  Stir in the vanilla.  Cool, then store in glass jars in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Drizzle over pancakes or waffles, or use to flavor mixed drinks or cocktails.

Note:  Save the pulpy puree that you strain the liquid out of – this would be fantastic added to the batter of a loaf bread or muffins in place of applesauce or oil.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups of syrup and 1 1/2 cups of puree.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen