Who wants anything to do with this weedy-looking plant with the scruffy leaves and bright red stalks?
Well, I do. Rhubarb, officially known as Rheum rhabarbarum. It’s one of the first plants to show growth in the spring, making it popular as a tonic — and one of the first sources of the season for fruit crumbles, crisps and pie. (Although it’s technically a vegetable.) That’s why rhubarb’s other name is “pieplant.” It was first brought into the United States in the 1820s, and popular with the pioneers, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
It’s easily grown — provided you dig a bushel-basket-sized hole, add plenty of manure or compost, and plant the roots (don’t mess with seeds) just below the surface. Once established, it handles drought and neglect with equal indifference — in fact, many former homesteads still have rhubarb clumps and lilac plants growing to mark the spot.
Cut off the stalks (which range from pale green to bright red), but leave a little extra, so the plant can renew itself. (Discard the leaves, which are cathartic, and can cause stomach troubles.)
Wash and chop them roughly, and you’ve got the makings for:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 2/3 cup sugar 3/4 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger root 2 fresh rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, ends trimmed, and stalks cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, or 2 cups frozen sliced rhubarb, thawed and drained
Mix together. Makes about 2 cups; serve alongside chicken, pork chops or other proteins.
Rhubarb is also tasty, combined with strawberries — the colors and flavors both complement each other
1 1/4 c Sugar 1/8 ts Salt 1/3 c Flour 2 c Fresh strawberries 2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces 2 T Butter or margarine 1 T Sugar 1 Pastry for 2-crust pie
Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Install top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.
Rhubarb’s crisp, clean, slightly acid flavor….it’s a wake-up call for your taste buds.