With its vibrant color, distinct tanginess, and incredible versatility, rhubarb is a perfect addition to your culinary repertoire. Join me as I uncover the wonders of this unique plant and discover how to incorporate it into delicious recipes.
Edwardians Loved Rhubarb
During the Edwardian era, rhubarb held a special place in the hearts and palates of the people. Its tangy flavor and vibrant red stalks made it a prized ingredient in pies, preserves, and desserts. Edwardians relished the tartness of rhubarb, balancing it with sugar to create delightful treats. Whether enjoyed in a classic rhubarb pie or transformed into jams and jellies, rhubarb brought a burst of color and flavor to the tables of the Edwardian era, leaving a lasting legacy in their culinary traditions.
So, yes, you would have likely enjoyed rhubarb on your country estate like Downton Abbey.
My Love of Rhubarb
I love my little patch of rhubarb in my garden. It has special meaning to me as it belonged to my Mother-in-Law. She had passed before my husband and I married, so I never met her. She had a little patch growing at the cottage and I dug it up before we sold the property. The plant has flourished over the years, producing stalks from early Spring through to Fall. I occasionally dig up a section and give it our kids as a housewarming gift to plant in their own gardens and enjoy their grandmother’s love each summer.
My love of rhubarb goes back further to my childhood. Our family always grew rhubarb, as did my grandparents. I love sour foods, so I very much enjoyed pulling a stalk from the patch and savouring the tart treat right there in the garden. Pucker Up!
If you aren’t as familiar with this versatile plant that is so easy to grow that you can plant and forget it, follow along.
The Rhubarb Basics
Let’s start with the basics. Rhubarb is a perennial plant known for its edible stalks, which we typically use in cooking. Although often mistaken for a fruit, rhubarb is a vegetable. It belongs to the same family as sorrel and buckwheat, and its tart flavour profile can be compared to that of a lemon or green apple.
Health Benefits of Rhubarb
Not only is rhubarb a tasty addition to your meals, but it also offers several health benefits.
- It is a great source of dietary fibre, which aids digestion and promotes a healthy gut.
- Rhubarb also contains vitamins C and Calcium for strong bones
- Benefit from antioxidants for flawless skin and better vision
- Additionally, it also has Vitamin K, for healthy blood clotting and a strong immune system
- It is low in calories, making it a fantastic choice for those watching their weight.
When and How to Harvest Your Rhubarb
- Patience is Key: When you first plant rhubarb, it’s important to exercise patience and refrain from harvesting the stalks for at least two years. This allows the plant to establish a strong root system and promotes healthy growth.
- Timing: Rhubarb is typically ready for harvest in the late spring or early summer, depending on your location and climate. The ideal time to harvest is when the stalks are thick and mature but still firm and crisp.
- Stalk Size: The size of the stalks is a good indicator of readiness for harvest. Look for stalks at least 10-15 inches long and about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. They don’t have to be red to eat; the length and thickness is your guide. Avoid harvesting thin or spindly stalks, as they are not fully developed and may not provide the best flavour. Thicker are actually better than thin, but both are acceptable as long as the length is there.
- Harvesting Technique: To harvest rhubarb, firmly grasp the stalk near the base, close to the soil level. Gently pull and twist the stalk sideways, away from the crown of the plant. This helps detach the stalk cleanly without causing damage to the plant. Alternatively, you can use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut the stalk at the base.
- Quantity: When harvesting rhubarb, it’s generally recommended to avoid removing more than one-third of the total stalks at any given time. This ensures that the plant has enough leaves left for photosynthesis, which supports future growth and vigor.
- Removing Flower Stalks: If you notice any flower stalks emerging from your rhubarb plant, it’s important to remove them promptly. Flowering diverts energy from the stalks and can negatively impact their quality. Simply cut or twist off the flower stalks as close to the base as possible.
- Harvest Duration: You can continue harvesting rhubarb throughout the growing season, usually until early summer. However, it’s essential to stop harvesting at least a month before the first expected frost in your area. This allows the plant to store energy for winter dormancy and ensures its survival for the following year.
Selecting and Storing Rhubarb in the Store
If you don’t have a rhubarb plant, you can find fresh rhubarb at your grocer starting in May. You may also find rhubarb in the frozen vegetable section off-season. When choosing fresh rhubarb, look for stalks that are firm, crisp, and brightly coloured. Avoid any stalks that appear limp or discoloured. Remember, only the stalks are edible; the leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and should be discarded. Once you’ve brought your rhubarb home, store it in a plastic bag to maintain its freshness in the refrigerator. It should keep well for about a week.
Rhubarb Fun Facts
Here are a few interesting facts about rhubarb to impress your friends:
- Rhubarb is believed to have originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago and was initially used for medicinal purposes.
- The vibrant red stalks we commonly associate with rhubarb result from cultivating varieties with higher levels of natural red pigments.
- In the United States, rhubarb is often called the “pie plant” due to its popularity in traditional rhubarb pie recipes.
- Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, but don’t worry! The stalks are perfectly safe to eat.
Culinary Adventures with Rhubarb
Rhubarb’s unique tartness and vibrant colour make it an excellent ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes. Here are a few creative ways to incorporate rhubarb into your culinary adventures:
- Classic Rhubarb Pie: There’s nothing quite like the tangy-sweet combination of rhubarb and strawberries in a flaky pie crust. Bake up a classic rhubarb pie and savour the deliciousness of this timeless dessert.
- Rhubarb Jam: the classic combination is strawberries as they are in season at the same time, but consider mixing with other flavour profiles, like ginger.
- Rhubarb Compote: Simmer rhubarb stalks with sugar and a splash of water to create a delightful compote. This versatile condiment can be enjoyed on toast, swirled into yogurt, or even consider using as as a pancake topping.
- Rhubarb Chutney: Take your taste buds on a flavour-packed journey with a rhubarb chutney. Combine rhubarb with ingredients like onions, ginger, and spices to create a zesty accompaniment for grilled meats or cheese platters. Link to my
- Rhubarb Salsa: Add a refreshing twist to your salsa by incorporating diced rhubarb. Its tanginess pairs beautifully with ingredients like tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro. Serve it with tortilla chips or top grilled fish or chicken.
Here are some of my favourite rhubarb recipes and the meals to enjoy them. It really is a versatile vegetable.