Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't dismiss rhubarb!

The humble, old-fashioned children, didn't we all pick stems of it when no one was looking?  Later it was unripe grapes, and later in the season still, green apples.  We loved to pucker, didn't we?

Trimming rhubarb stalks

Ten years ago, when we bought this property, I dug up a couple of rhubarb plants and gave them to our former neighbor, an older Sicilian lady who knew how to eat from her yard.  She's the one who so tactfully helped me with my first vegetable garden, planted in the yard of the apartment we were living in at the time.  When she saw me doing something that just wouldn't work, she would approach the fence, strike up a conversation, and start the topic in question with, "I read an article in the paper on how to plant tomatoes...."  She was a peach.  She didn't read it in the paper.  She'd been working in the garden her entire 70+ years.  A lesson in tact, for sure.

Three years ago, I asked another older friend for some divisions of his rhubarb plants.  He gave me three.  He supplied me with rhubarb for 2 years until my plants were big enough to safely harvest from....this year.  Look at how our attitudes can change with time and knowledge and new-found appreciation.

Cut the washed stems into half inch slices.

Tart rhubarb is a vegetable that is used like a fruit.  It is one of the first things that is harvested in the spring for Northern gardeners.  I'm told that Southern gardeners can grow it, but only as an annual. 

Let me repeat something important here:  Rhubarb is a vegetable!  So rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb cobbler....vegetable dishes.  Watch the sugar, though.  Use stevia, and enjoy the tartness of the dish.  Everything doesn't have to be syrupy-sweet.

I used frozen strawberries with yesterday's harvest to make a lovely strawberry-rhubarb sauce to eat with our chevre.  We got no strawberries from our patch last year due to all the rain (rotted the huge crop of berries before they could ripen) and this year the plants are flowering early due to an unusual warm spell....and now it is cold again, frosty nights, and no bees out during the day.  My hopes for a crop this year are dim.  I sent the hubster to the local grocery store to buy a bag of store brand, not organic (eek, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do) frozen strawberries.

They were shameful.  Pale and unripe, they combined with the rhubarb to make a green sauce.  I went back into the freezer to get a big handful of elderberries that I'd picked and frozen last summer to add some color and some antioxidants to the sauce.

Measure the desired amount.  I used four cups today.

Put it in a saucepan with a little water, and start it simmering.

Measure out the same amount of strawberries, fresh or frozen.

I simmered it for about 20 can do this for far less time if skipping the elderberries.  Just soften the fruit.  Elderberries are poisonous unless fully cooked, so I made a sauce instead of chunky fruit.

When it cooled, I added liquid stevia to sweeten it.  If this is still too tart for you, add a bit of raw wildflower honey along with the stevia.  Skip the white sugar.  It has no redeeming value.  I use it only for fermenting kombucha and wine, since it is completely taken up by the microbes and the yeasts.

Once it was completely cooled, I layered the sauce with chevre (yogurt or strained yogurt would be great, too) to make some grab-n-go snacks for the next few busy days.  I put the rest into a quart jar to have with chocolate black bean cake.  It would also make a great sauce for pancakes (made with coconut flour for all you low-carbers)...the possibilities are endless.

The finished sauce.

Next, I chopped the rest of the day's harvest and froze it in a ziploc freezer bag.  I'll add to this bag, and start more bags, as the rhubarb continues to send out leaves.  The earliest harvests are more tender and less tart, so at some point I will stop picking them for the year.  Oh, and remember, the actual leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, so don't feed them to your family or your livestock.  I layer them around the plants as a mild weed block.

Freeze the chopped bits in a ziploc freezer bag.

You don't necessarily have to have plants to have rhubarb.  Put the word out.  There are people in every Northern neighborhood who have rhubarb plants and don't harvest it.  There are older gardeners who have too much and hate to see it wasted.  But if you have the room for it, it is a practically care-free plant that comes back every year and is actually quite decorative, and can be planted in a flower garden as a backdrop to colorful annual flowers, and to add textural interest with its gigantic leaves and thick, red stems.

Did I mention it was a vegetable?  That is used like a fruit?  Perfect for those who are on the Sugar Handling Diet and are missing all the fruit they used to eat.  If you have a great blender for making smoothies (such as a VitaMix), it is wonderful to add a few pieces to a summer smoothie.  It also adds a bit of lemony tartness to a frozen fruit sorbet.  And it is....say it with me....a vegetable!

And one more picture, just because, of one of Ginger's bucklings:

Ain't he cute?


  1. I love rhubarb!!! Rhubarb pie is my favorite.

    And I love your Sicilian Grandma Gardner... a peach for sure. The greatest thing is that you are now helping others with your knowledge.

  2. Yup, I'm heading towards "grandmotherhood" myself as the years go by! Although all my kids are four legged and furry....

    And yup, Santa was the name of that neighbor lady. We used to hang laundry together. She noticed I put our underwear on the line and mentioned that she only dries hers on a rack indoors. I replied that everyone has underwear, and I did try to hide it a bit by putting it on the inner lines. I noticed that her undies were on the line the following week! I so enjoyed learning from her, but it startled me that she also adjusted her ways because of me.

  3. LOL about the underwear. I do the same, hide them behind sheets.

    I grow rhubarb, and used to love it, well sweetened. But now I don't do any sweeteners, natural or otherwise, and strawberries just can't do it on their own, with rhubarb. Now if there was a vegetable recipe, that did not need to be sweetened....

    But all is not lost. I can't grow asparagus here, beetles decimate it. Across the street, my neighbor can't grow rhubarb, has had 3 die in as many years. So we swop. He grows wonderful asparagus, and I grow ginormous rhubarb plants.

  4. Love rhubarb- on ice cream, in yogurt, raw dipped in sugar...

    FYI -Ripe elderberries (skins and pulp) are not poisonous however the leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). Too much of any of these parts can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. I make elderberry syrup but I make sure to strain the seeds out!

  5. Great barter arrangement, Pam!

    Callie, I did not know that....I did know the plant parts were poisonous, but didn't know the raw juice/pulp without the seeds was ok. Cool!

  6. Looks great! My fiance recently had his first taste of rhubarb pie, and not a week later, had purchased seeds to plant in the garden this year. It will be a little while until we can harvest from them, but I can't wait.

  7. You can plant rhubarb from seeds? Did not know that! It must take a while for them to grow...I waited until the third year, and I had a pretty big division. But it is worth the wait! I've read that you can divide them in half every 5 years or so. I may be dividing mine up in a couple more years so I can have even more.

  8. I love rhubarb and would never think of polluting it with strawberries. I make a very tart pie that is almost like lemonade in a crust because I use so little sugar in it. I live in the South and cannot find anyone with rhubarb. The stores carried it years ago. Now, they don't. Not even the farmer's market people know where to find any.

  9. Oh, too bad you can't get rhubarb! Can you grow it as an annual? I've read that some do that in the warmer states.