A return to home - and a berry good treat

I have served this Wisconsin version of kuchen at countless parties and family gatherings.

It was early spring, and I knew just what I wanted to serve for dessert at an upcoming dinner party. I sat down at our kitchen table to plan the menu and opened my recipe box. Being a lover of sweets, I began with the dessert - strawberry-rhubarb kuchen. As I gazed at its worn, spotted recipe card, memories took me back over the years.

My introduction to this recipe - and to cooking in general - took place at one of my bridal showers 43 years ago. It was a kitchen shower given for me by a friend of my mother's.

The guests, who were experienced cooks, gave me many tried-and-true recipes along with cooking utensils that they knew would be useful.

The mother of my matron of honor gave me the recipe for strawberry-rhubarb kuchen. (We lived in a predominately German community in Wisconsin. Hence the name kuchen.)

I have had many requests for the recipe over the years. I cannot guess how old it is and would love to know how far and wide this recipe has traveled. I have served this Wisconsin version of kuchen at countless parties and family gatherings - and always at Easter and women's teas.

Once I was in charge of refreshments for a large tea party. My grade-school arithmetic came in handy as I successfully increased the recipe to fit into 10-by-15-inch pans instead of the 9-by-13-inch one I usually use.

I have made many kuchens for our annual garden club plant and bake sale. I always made an extra one for my friend, Norma, who would invariably pick up hers in advance of the sale to be sure that she got one.

After an absence of almost 40 years, we recently moved back to our home area.

One evening I took the kuchen to a potluck supper meeting. When the hostess saw it, she went to her recipe box and pulled out my kuchen recipe! I had typed it on a card for her long ago.

Seeing the card, I realized that I had changed the recipe over the years, substituting regular sugar for powdered, or confectioners' sugar in the crust. Both are good, but I have now returned to using powdered.

This kuchen could also be made with plums, peaches, or apples, but we like it best with strawberries and rhubarb.

In the summer we freeze the fresh-picked fruit by simply washing the strawberries and rhubarb (cutting the rhubarb stalks into one-inch pieces with scissors), drying them with a paper towel, spreading them out in a shallow pan, and placing them in the freezer. When they're frozen, we put them in plastic bags to store in the freezer.

The fruit stored in the freezer is then ready for baking in early spring or for the occasional midwinter craving for strawberry-rhubarb kuchen. When I begin mixing the ingredients for the crust, I remove the fruit from the freezer. This gives the fruit time to thaw enough before I put it into the pan to bake.

Sweet memories. I believe I will bake a kuchen for tonight's dinner.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Kuchen

Crust
6 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 large egg

Filling
3 to 4 cups strawberries
3 to 4 cups rhubarb, sliced

Topping
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 tablespoons butter

To make the crust, place butter, flour, salt, baking powder, confectioners' sugar, and egg in a mixing bowl. Mix together with your fingers (dough will be stiff). Pat into an ungreased 9-by-13-inch pan.

Cut rhubarb into one-inch pieces and halve large strawberries. Place over the crust, filling almost to the top of the pan. (It's not necessary to "arrange" the fruit artistically. Just add the different kinds alternately so that the fruit is mixed together.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

To make the topping, mix the sugar, flour, and butter with a fork and sprinkle over the fruit.

Bake uncovered for 1 hour. The kuchen is done when it's slightly bubbling and the fruit is soft when tested with a fork. Cool on a rack.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

Serves 10 to 12.

Note: Try other fruits, too: plums, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, and peeled apples.

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