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Summer Celebration and Grandma's Rhubarb Swirl

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

I’m a June baby. June 21 to be exact. Born on summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It must be why I’m a bit of a night owl, especially living in Montana where the sun doesn’t set until 10 PM! I feel the ethereal joy of a summer night deep in my bones. I was born for summer. I guess it is my season. Now, there are two things I associate with the first day of summer – lilacs and rhubarb. Here’s why:

My baby brother was born a year-and-eight hours after me. We are almost Irish twins, minus the Irish heritage and about 4 hours time. We don’t look like twins per-say. He’s got about 8 inches on me for one thing. However, we do have the same Hyper-color eyes: sometimes green, sometimes brown, once in awhile gray. As kids, we always shared a simple backyard birthday celebration. Dad and Poppy would break from baling hay just long enough for an itchy hug and a bowl of homemade ice cream under the cool shade of the trees. Along with a brightly wrapped toy, my grandma often cut me a big bouquet of lilacs from her giant purple tree, and she made a pan of rhubarb swirl. She has always known me so well: flowers and food. Every time. Yes.

Grandma thinks maybe her rhubarb plant is a Martha Washington. She doesn’t really remember, if she ever knew. It was a plant a neighbor gave her a long time ago. A drought a few summers back nearly did her big ol’ plants in, but she dug them up, gave me most of them and planted a bit by her back door (in case she wants to make any rhubarb swirl which she has pretty much every year). This was one of the first recipes I remember making with her when I was a kid. I mispronounced it as rhubarb squirrel, and the name stuck. Grandma wrote out the recipe for my daughter Elaina a couple years ago which is a treasure. However, she labeled the recipe card Rosy Rhubarb Swirl which took me awhile to associate with the “Squirrel” I’ve come to know and love.

As many of you know, Evie and I are gluten-free. Which is a big bummer when you are hankering for a taste of memory lane and hoping to share the delightful heirloom recipe with your offspring! To the rescue – Gluten-Free Bisquick. No, this not a paid advertisement. But in this recipe, it did the trick. I am always so delighted when I am able to simply modify a favorite to enjoy a traditional family recipe which otherwise we would miss out on. Of course, the original is probably still a bit better because, well let’s be honest, it just is. So, in fairness to all – I’ll share Grandma’s version of this dessert she’s been making yearly since the 1940's along with my modified gluten-free version. I didn't even snap a picture before it was half-eaten. I guess that in itself ought to tell you how tasty it is. Happy summer!


From the Red Barn,


Grandma’s Rhubarb Swirl



1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup cranberry juice (*note from grandma – I sometimes use apple juice or just water or other juices instead of cranberry juice, even orange juice works fine).

¼ water

3 ½ cups rhubarb, rinsed and diced


2 cups biscuit mix

2 T. sugar

½ tsp. nutmeg

1T. vegetable oi

1/3-1/2 cup milk

2 T. butter, softened


1. Pre-heat oven to 425 F.

2. Lightly butter an 8” x 8” x 2 “ pan.

3. Combine sugar, juice, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat.

4. Mix together rhubarb and syrup mixture and place in prepared pan about ½ “ thick. Reserve remainder.

5. Make dough in a bowl by combining biscuit mix with 2T of sugar, nutmeg, oil and milk. Gently form a soft dough.

6. Roll out dough on a floured surface or parchment to create a 9” square.

7. Spread softened butter over the dough and add remaining rhubarb, draining juice so it is mostly fruit. Sprinkle the top with sugar.

8. Start at one side and carefully roll dough, use parchment to help. Seal together end by pinching. Cut into 9 slices.

9. Place slices cut side up over rhubarb mixture in pan. Pour over remaining syrup and sprinkle with remaining sugar.

10. Bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about 9 servings. Serve warm with or without ice cream.

*** Modified Gluten Free Version***

Use 2 Cups of gluten-free Bisquick Biscuit mix and add one egg to dough to help hold it together.

All other steps and ingredients remain the same. I used a local, Flathead Lake cherry juice from Tabletree juice company and it was incredible! (Plug for a Made in Montana business)! Yum! Bake time is more like 20 -25 minutes.

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