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Rhubarb: Yanks, Brits and Germans Look Wistfully at Recipes

May 29th, 2009 · 13 Comments

rhubarbThere’s not much rhubarb in the South

We’re not only upside-down in growing seasons here (our green markets are finished until they start again in mid-fall, while Northern ones are open for summer) we just can’t grow certain things at all.

One of those is rhubarb. This plant really doesn’t cotton much to the South at all — just too hot, especially here in the tropics, and it requires at least some cold nights to produce its rosy stalks. (Education station: the stalks are formally known as petioles).

Up North, it’s a harbinger of spring in some parts, where its leaves will push through snow-covered soil. April-June seems to be its best months and that’s when we find it in Whole Foods’ and Publix’s produce bins.

Asian pedigree

The plant’s from Asia and is a big part of that continent’s cuisine. Much of the history writings place it with the Mongolians. It was used medicinally, as most green plants were – and nefariously, in toxins, since the giant leaves it produces contain poisons.

Until the Middle Ages, nobody ate the stuff. Most bitter foods were seen as poisons and diners didn’t trust it.

When sugar became more common, the tart rhubarb became a delicacy for all. It’s a common plant in household gardens around the Northwest US, Michigan and the Great Lakes states, and Europe — Germans and the Brits cherish rhubarb.


It likes strawberries

Its short season makes it a specialty among cooks who put up vegetables; they typically can it in syrup, or turn it into a sauce that’s also canned.  Because strawberries usually appear around the same time, the two have become a favorite pairing, and astrawberry-rhubarb pie is a classic on diner and church supper menus this time of year.

Pies, tarts, and pastries

Other favorite recipes for it include crumbles, cobblers, sauces and quickbreads, though I’ve seen recipes for fabulous custards, pastries, and cheesecake. But why not salads? Couldn’t you cook it and use it on arugula or spinach with cut strawberries and walnut pieces, and dress it with a sweet onion or raspberry vinaigrette? Bet it would be pretty and delicious.

Share your rhubarb recipes

Do any of you have any savory recipes for it? Let me know — we’ll share them here! Here’s that salad idea, written out.

Rhubarb-spinach salad

  • 1 bunch rhubarb, cleaned and steamed; cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 bunch spinach, well cleaned, stems trimmed as needed
  • 1/2 bunch red-leaf lettuce (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion

Toss rhubarb and berries gently with greens; sprinkle with walnuts and onion. Dress to your taste with raspberry vinaigrette, below.

Serves 2.

For raspberry vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 finely chopped garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon very finely chopped shallot or onion
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Combine all, whisking well or use food processor or blender jar. Store unused portion in refrigerator. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking!

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ksteinhoff // May 29, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Well, you can look at John Forgarty’s song Rhubarb Pie for direction:

    “Rhubarb pie, rhubarb pie
    It might rain tomorrow
    Better get some before I die…”

    Hear it on YouTube here:

  • 2 Maude Eaton "The Diva" // May 29, 2009 at 11:38 am

    This is my Divalicious version of the stew

    Persian Rhubarb Stew

    1 1/2 lb Stew meat
    1 lb Rhubarb; cut into 1″ pieces (use fresh if possible)
    1 c Chopped parsley (Italian flat leaf)
    2 tb Dried mint
    1 tb (heaping) Tomato paste; (1 to 2)
    1 yellow onion,chopped
    1/4 ts Turmeric; (1/4 to 1/2)
    1 pn Saffron (crushed with back of spoon in a cup)dissolved in hot water
    3 tb Lemon juice
    1/2 ts each Garlic and onion powder
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Brown meat and onions. Add tomato paste and stir into the meat, add turmeric, garlic and onion powder,salt and pepper.Stir to incorporate to meat. Add 3 cups water and cook one hour. Meanwhile, in a seperate pan, add some oil and saute parsley and mint until fragrant but not brown. Add to stew with dissolved saffron broth. Cook another hour. Add lemon juice and rhubarb. Cook until rhubarb is tender but not falling apart.

    Cooking times are approximate. Always taste your food to adjust seasoning. Meat should be almost falling apart, but rhubarb shouldn’t. There should be about 1-1/2 cups liquid in stew at end of cooking time. Serve over hot Basmati rice. Enjoy!

  • 3 Jan Norris // May 29, 2009 at 11:40 am

    That’s one of the sexiest sounding recipes anywhere – and sure changes how I think of rhubarb! Leave it to the Persians to combine so many terrific flavors in one pot. Thanks for sharing!

  • 4 Maude Eaton "The Diva" // May 29, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Add some “Masto Khiar’ yogurt, grated cucumber and mint on the side and your in palate heaven … even more sexy!

  • 5 Shamin // May 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    My mother used to make thick custurd topped with sweet stewed rubard…very British and very delicious!

  • 6 Jan Norris // May 29, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Maude, my love: that’s food porn at its finest!

    Shamin: I figured you for a rhubarb lover – did it also grow in Wales?

  • 7 acasualobserver // May 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    The home where I grew up was carved from farmland. Landfill for our back yard was provided by an old stone silo that was simply bulldozed and covered with a thin layer of topsoil. Clearing a small patch for a vegetable garden fell to me and my little wagon.

    We sifted the “dirt,” placing the stones in the wagon which was used to haul them off for later use. After what seemed like weeks of effort, we ended up with a 50 foot square patch of land where Mom grew New Jersey Beefsteak Tomatoes, Pole Beans, Zucchini, Strawberries and Rhubarb. There were only two rhubarb plants, but they produced enough for our family and then some.

    Ripe rhubarb was harvested in June. Mom would put it in a big pot and cook it down until it was nice and tender. She would then make deep-dish rhubarb pies, the memories of which bring tingles to my jaw to this day.

    Mom would demonstrate her generosity by offering the pies to neighbors, friends, and family. Since no one would ever accept the gift, one pie would go a long way. Interestingly, she wasn’t quite as generous with her apple pies!

  • 8 SLM // May 29, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Use to grow rhubarb on someone’s farm years ago. The trick to growing it is a simple one, the hard part is keeping the stalks from splitting when the leaves get heavy and weigh the stalks down. The best solution for that was taking an old plastic bucket and cutting the bottom out of it. You then place the entire bucket over the plant early on when it is growing and the plant grows up through the bucket and the stalks are supported by the sides of the bucket and never have to support the full weight of the leaves (the leaves are huge and heavy). Then you could simply cut what stalks you needed when you needed them.

  • 9 Jan Norris // May 29, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Does the same plant keep producing all season, or do you need a garden full?

  • 10 Lila // May 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Holy freakin’ cow!!! You have hit a subject dear to my heart. Next to her okra, my grandmother grew the best tasting rhubarb in the world.

    I couldn’t wait every spring for the ‘pink celery’ behind her garage. (Hey! I was a kid. I didn’t know celery didn’t come in colors that tasted way better than the green kind. ha!)

    When I got older, we’d all help with canning and preserving what came from her garden. I remember my grandmother telling us not to cook any of the leaves, and not to cook it in one particular metal pan. She’d say, “You’ll poison yourselves.” I paid attention and remain unpoisoned.

    She froze rhubarb, too. Cut it into short pieces, spread the pieces on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. When frozen put the pieces in a plastic bag.

    I am a purist when it comes to rhubarb. Just give me a plain old tart rhubarb pie. I know it is popular, but don’t contaminate mine with a bunch of strawberries. I don’t even mess with a crust most of the time… just cook and eat.

    Yummy stuff!

  • 11 CookingSchoolConfidential.com // May 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve only ever cooked with rhubarb once – at cooking school (I’m a student) we made a compote. So when I saw it at the market today, I had to buy more to play with. So glad I tripped across your post. I only wish I had gotten more then a few stalks.


  • 12 Scott Simmons // Jun 4, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Anna Carter, my great-great-great-grandmother, kept a diary in which she wrote about baking pies. Among them: “pie plant” pies, which I now know is an old-fashioned term for rhubarb.

    What a fun piece you’ve written.

  • 13 Rhubarb and Mulberries – Oh My! // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

    […] No CommentsCan you tell it’s Spring Break, garden style? I’ve already written about rhubarb – that celery-like vegetable that Midwesterners, Brits and Germans adore and we have so […]

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