A couple of generations ago, growing rhubarb was as common as keeping a vegetable garden. But as more and more exotic fruits became available, rhubarb was relegated to the realm of the boring and old fashioned.
In fact, for a decade or two, this mouth puckering fruit developed a reputation as the “grandma plant” because it became associated with old-lady gardens!
But rhubarb lovers can rejoice, for it is making a comeback. The trend toward fresh, local ingredients has brought rhubarb back into the spotlight. After all, rhubarb precedes other fruit — strawberries, cherries, raspberries — by a good many weeks, if not months.
In April and May, rhubarb is the only fresh and local “fruit” available, so many home chefs are coming to appreciate rhubarb and its wonderful distinct tart taste all over again.
With our cold spring and summer, rhubarb is still “in season” in July!
Rhubarb recipes treat the stalky plant as a fruit, as you will often find the ruby coloured added into pies cobblers, crisps and jams or jellies.
It might come as a surprise to some that, according to Wikipedia, this hearty ornamental herbaceous perennial plant is actually a vegetable. Because it’s considered as close relative to garden sorrel, rhubarb is botanically grouped into the member of the vegetable family.
In the United States until the 1940s it was considered a vegetable. It was reclassified as a fruit when US customs officials, baffled by the foreign food, decided it should be classified according to the way it was eaten.
In the ancient times there was never a question, whether rhubarb was a fruit or a vegetable. It was considered a herb and used for medicinal purposes rather than for culinary use. The dried root was a popular remedy for a wide range of illnesses. Its primary function was treat stomach, colon and liver ailments.
This medicinal role caused the price of the dried root to rise. In fact, rhubarb sold for ten times the price of cinnamon and over twice the price of opium.
It was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that rhubarb began to be consumed in foods. One reason why it took so long for the rhubarb to make its debut into the kitchen was perhaps because of its poisonous leaves.
The English reckoned that the leaves, which are rough and green, resembled Swiss chard, were the edible part of the plant. Quite the opposite is true. Only the stalks are edible.
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, containing a toxic amount of oxalic acid, which causes cramps, nausea, and if ingested in large quantity, death. This belated discovery did little for rhubarb’s popularity.
For a first-time vegetable grower, there isn’t an easier place to start than with rhubarb. It is a very hardy, frost resistant vegetable that will survive almost total neglect . It comes back faithfully every year, is relatively disease free and produces a bountiful harvest. It flourishes so that you end up with a tasty dessert fruit when little else is ready.
Once picked, rhubarb can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days in an airtight plastic bag and in the freezer for up to nine months. To prepare for freezing, clean the stalks, remove blemishes, and chop to the desired size. Place into an airtight container leaving some space for expansion. Place the sealed container in the coldest part of your freezer to allow for the faster freezing possible.
Rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw; however, the tartness of the stalk typically deters most from attempting to consume it in this manner. Rhubarb is definitely used in combination with sugar or paired with a sweeter fruits, like strawberries, apples, and oranges.
To use in desserts, the possibilities for rhubarb are endless. Stewed rhubarb can be used in your favorite breakfast cereal, served over pancakes, ice cream or yogurt.
In baking, stir pieces of rhubarb into muffins, squares, quick breads, coffee cake batters and the family fruit crisps and cobbles recipes. Rhubarb’s tart and tangy taste also makes it a perfect ingredient for refreshing summer slush or punch.
Besides the dessert, rhubarb also has a savoury side. It can be added to soups, stews, meats and chutneys where its natural sourness makes a nice counterbalance to the richness or sweetness of other ingredients.
So, pucker up for this “granny plant” and rejoice in the tartness of this spring bounty to ensure it doesn’t lose its charm again!
8 cup chopped rhubarb
2 liters water
½ cup lemon juice
3 cup sugar
3 cups frozen strawberries
3 oz. pkg. strawberry J-ello
2 cup vodka or rum(optional)
Boil the first four ingredients until they are a syrupy pulp. Then add the frozen strawberries and cook until warm through. Add the strawberry jello and the vodka or rum. Mix together, and then freeze in some kind of jello mold.
When ready to serve, take the slush mixture out of the mold and add 7-Up or Ginger Ale to make a punch. Let sit for awhile before service, and mix to get the slush to break down.
Easy Stewed Rhubarb
6 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest from 1 orange
2 tablespoon water
few drops of red food colouring(optional)
In large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally for about 15 min or until slightly thickened and rhubarb is in threads. Let cool. Can be refrigerated up to 5 days. Makes 3 cups
3 cup rhubarb
2 teaspoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
1 Jalapeno chilli, (or more) seeds and veins removed
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/4 cup currants (or other dried fruit)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cup vinegar
Wash the rhubarb and slice into pieces 1/4-inch thick. If the stalks are wide cut them in halves or thirds lengthwise first. Finely chop the grated ginger with the garlic and chilli. Place all the ingredients in a non-corrosive pan, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is broken down and is the texture of a jam, about 30 minutes. Store refrigerated in a glass jar. Makes 1 Cup
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup sugar
4 cups rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup margarine.
Preheat oven to 375C. Combine all ingredients for the base and in greased cookie sheet.
Top rhubarb over the base. Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and margarine. Sprinkle flour mixture over the rhubarb. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Best if sliced while hot.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.