Seems like rhubarb plants burst to life and get all full and bushy about the same time as the trees. Suddenly it’s summer, and there are shadows on the lawn again.
In culinary terms, springtime is rhubarb time in Minnesota. It’s part of our Midwestern food-palate DNA. Like us, rhubarb thrives in cold weather. When you buy a house in the Twin Cities, you’ll likely inherit a rhubarb patch. It’s known as the “Pie Plant”, and it tends to conjure up all sorts of gooey, nostalgic memories for most of us. The rhubarb dessert recipes in my cookbook are some of my oldest and most treasured, often because of the very special women who shared them with me.
Today, rhubarb is bringing zing to our savory dishes as well. It's a wonderful complement to roasted chicken and pork, adds brightness to soup, and is a terrific salsa and condiment. I love these delicious new ways to utilize our beloved and prolific rhubarb plants.
Considering it's our neighborhood food plant, think about taking an hour out to use it to it's full potential-- carry on the grand Minnesota-Nice tradition of sharing a rhubarb pie or treat with a neighbor! It’s just that easy to spread love and kindness.
Viva la rhubarb! Viva la Minnesota summers!
Wrap in a damp towel and store in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to a week inside a loose plastic bag.
If your stalks get limp, you can refresh them by allowing them to stand upright in a jar filled with a couple inches of water for an hour or two- in the fridge is best (cut stalks in half if they’re too tall to fit on the shelf).
You can also freeze rhubarb- easy-peasy! Wash and dry the stalks, then cut into 1/2” pieces and throw them into an airtight, freezer safe container or ziplock bag. If you want them ready for a specific recipe, measure and label the container.
Warning: Do NOT eat rhubarb leaves! Discard them; they are very toxic!
While rhubarb is most often used in sweet desserts and jams, it’s also wonderful in savory dishes.
Roast in a greased, shallow baking dish with a little olive oil, honey, salt and pepper and it becomes a very simple and lovely sauce for fish, chicken or pork.
Substitute a little bit of rhubarb for lemongrass in a stir fry.
Add crisp-tender roasted rhubarb or thinly shaved raw rhubarb into a bitter greens salad with a little chopped green onion, snipped mint and a sweetened vinaigrette.
Use as an especially refreshing beverage ingredient.
Add a little to soups for a touch of tangy brightness.
Rhubarb has an extremely high water content. But it’s rich in vitamin C and fiber, and is a good source of potassium. The sour taste of rhubarb comes from oxalic acid. In the plant world, it is related to sorrel (also sour from oxalic acid content), and buckwheat.
Though we think of rhubarb as a fruit, it is really a vegetable.
Waste Not, Want Not
If you have rhubarb growing in your yard, try these tips:
Use rhubarb leaves for weed prevention
This is an old trick I learned decades ago, and still use with great success every year- when you pick your rhubarb, break the leaves off the stems as you work in the garden. Place the leaves flat on the ground around the rhubarb plants or other plants. The leaves act as a smothering blanket, preventing weeds from growing under them.
Farm tip: Use rhubarb leaves as an organic insecticide for leaf-eating insects
Note: because the leaves are very poisonous, for this project you’ll need an old pot, strainer, utensil, and jars that you will not use for future cooking purposes!
Tear up rhubarb leaves to fit into the pot; add 1 pint of water for every pound of leaves. Boil for 15 minutes, cool just slightly, and strain into jars. While still hot, add 3 Tbsp. shaved or minced softened soap bits (a good use for leftover soap ends from your shower); stir occasionally to melt the soap. Spray directly onto plant leaves that are infested, (best use), or you can spray as a prevention if you start to see a couple of insects. Liquid keeps for just 1-2 days, so use up right away. But remember that since rhubarb leaves are poisonous, the liquid will be toxic!
More ideas from CSA members:
Clean your stainless steel pots and pans! The oxalic acid will really do a number on your most stubborn stains. Chop a few stalks of rhubarb into small pieces, add a little water and lemon juice, and boil in the pot for 5 minutes, or 10 minutes for burned pans; scrub around. Discard rhubarb when done.
Color your hair! If you’re a blondie that wants to have a more golden hue to your hair, rhubarb may be for you! --it is a strong dye. Simmer 3-4 Tbsp. minced rhubarb root in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes, set aside overnight, and strain. First: test on a few strands to determine the effect on your hair! If you like it, pour through your hair as a rinse.
Originally from northern Asia, brought to Europe in the early 1600’s, rhubarb was not really Americanized until about 200 years later. Credit is often given to Ben Franklin for bringing rhubarb seeds to America; and it took a while for it to be embraced by American cooks- though once it did, it soon became a household staple. I once read in a history book that pioneer women were known to smuggle it on covered wagons (only more “valuable” seeds were allowed).
Lanesboro, MN has a fun Rhubarb Festival each year on the first Saturday of June. Check out the schedule: http://www.rhubarbfestival.org/site/rf-schedule.php
A bonus: Lanesboro is a great day trip destination offering bike trails, restaurants, art galleries, and much more.
Liz Talley, Urban Graze
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