Nellie’s Rhubarb Cake

When I asked if they had any rhubarb this year, my brother-in-law Patrick reported that it was doing great. He added that his eleven-year old granddaughter had helped him make his favorite rhubarb cake the day before. If only all grandfathers took the time to introduce their grandchildren to the pleasures of cooking!

Always looking for good recipes, I asked where he got the recipe. “It was Nellie’s,” he said, “the only rhubarb cake I remember her making. And I love it.” Nellie was Patrick’s stepmother. His mother died when he was four, and his father remarried when Patrick was six.

They lived in Hibbing, Minnesota, a few blocks from Robert Zimmerman. Patrick told me that you could hear Bob’s music over much of that Iron Range community as he and his friends jammed in the evening on the flat garage roof behind the Zimmerman home. His high school classmates predicted great things for the young musician in his graduation yearbook, but even they may have been surprised by their friend’s success as Bob Dylan.

Like Dylan, Nellie was originally from Duluth, Minnesota, but Patrick does not know if she got the recipe while she was growing up there or whether a friend shared it with her after she married his father. All he knows is that it is a great rhubarb cake.

And I agree.


1 cup sour milk
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon


Stir a teaspoon of cider vinegar into a cup of milk and let it sour as you prepare the rhubarb and dry ingredients. Preheat the oven to 350º. Clean and chop the rhubarb stalks into a quarter inch dice. Grease and flour a nine by thirteen inch cake pan.

Cream the sugar and shortening. Put the flour, soda and salt into a sifter and sift a half cup of flour into the creamed sugar. Stir it well with a wooden spoon. Beat the egg until it is lemon yellow and mix it with the milk. Pour about a third of the milk into the sugar and flour mixture and stir it until it is smooth. Stir in another half cup of flour, then another third cup of milk and beat the mixture until it is smooth. Repeat these steps, ending with the final half cup of flour and beat well.

Stir the vanilla and rhubarb into the batter and pour it into the pan.

Mix a teaspoon of cinnamon into a half cup of granulated sugar and use a teaspoon to sprinkle it evenly over the top of the batter.

Put the pan on a center shelf in the oven and bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes. Test for doneness after thirty minutes. A toothpick inserted near the middle of the cake should come out clean. If it does not, bake for another five minutes.

NOTE: This cake is especially good served warm.

One thought on “Nellie’s Rhubarb Cake”

  1. Chuck, this recipe has been in my “cookbook” since I was a young girl living on our North Dakota farm! (We’re talking the early 1960’s here.) I think it was one of those recipes that “made the rounds,” probably originating in a the women’s section of a farm magazine or newspaper. Our cinnamon-sugar topping also included some chopped walnuts for crunch and a piece was always dolloped with freshly whipped cream. If only I still had a rhubarb plant —


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