Picking rhubarb and enjoying the subtle sweet smell of the American Plum behind me.
That succulent harbinger of spring. It’s a great time to plant some if you don’t already have it, and we still have plenty of plants for sale at our nursery. At this time of year, our fruit nursery is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. After Father’s Day weekend, we’ll cut back to Sundays only. It’s been exciting to talk with so many people interested in growing their own fruit. Growing our own food is a great way to heal ourselves and the earth.
Rhubarb is easy to grow. You need a well-drained soil with full sun. It likes good fertility and no weeds, so add some nice compost once a year and keep the grass away. You can use cardboard with woodchips on top to help keep the weeds down, but invariably you’ll probably need some down-on-your-knees-type weeding too. The leaves are poisonous so don’t eat them. Stories abound on the internet that relate how during WWI the British government told civilians to eat rhubarb leaves because there was a shortage of leafy greens for people to eat. Many people died as a result. I’m not sure if this is actually true because the leaves are quite sour and bitter, and you need to eat a fair amount, but for malnourished and hungry people, it might not take that many leaves. Anyway, the point is don’t eat the leaves. And don’t listen to the government when it comes to eating healthy!
We just harvested 150 pounds for the Intervale Food Hub. The broken pieces that didn’t quite make quality control ended up as a rhubarb sauce that we enjoyed over our waffles. Delicious! Rhubarb sauce was also one of my mom’s favorites. It goes great on vanilla ice cream. (What doesn’t?) To make the sauce, wash and cut up the rhubarb. Put it in a saucepan with a little bit of water at the bottom to prevent sticking. Simmer until mushy and then add sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste. Enjoy it warm or cold.
Freezing Rhubarb is really easy. I wash and drain it well, and then cut the rhubarb into pieces. Freeze in a freezer bag or plastic freezer containers. You can place it all on a cookie sheet first and then into the bags, but I find the cookie sheet method an extra step that I really don’t have time for. Use the frozen rhubarb in the winter just like you would use fresh rhubarb except allow a little more time in your baking and cooking to account for thawing.
Some of our rhubarb favorites are rhubarb pie, muffins and bars. You can also mix in other fruit like strawberries, blueberries or raspberries to change up the flavor. Raspberry-rhubarb mixture is called Ambrosia by the Scandinavians. I’ve included some recipes below. I don’t cook with wheat flour anymore. I use mostly organic buckwheat flour which is hardy, nutritious and gluten free. All of the following recipes work well with buckwheat. The tart rhubarb flavor with the added sugar nicely compliments the sweet nutty buckwheat flavor. The only drawback is that buckwheat doesn’t roll out as well for pies, but it’s doable.
Rhubarb Bars (Serves 8)
- Cream 6 Tbs. Butter with ¼ C sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add 1 C flour and mix to make a dough.
- Pat dough into bottom of greased 8×8 pan.
- Bake 350oF for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile mix ¾ C rhubarb sauce (~2 C chopped rhubarb cooked down to mush = ¾ C rhubarb sauce), ½ teas. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. tapioca flour and ½ C sugar, ¼ teas baking powder, 2eggs.
- Pour rhubarb over baked dough layer.
- Bake in over 350oF for 25-30 min. Be careful not to burn crust.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (Serves 8 except in our house where it serves 2)
- Make two pie crusts (2/3 C solid fat at room temperature (Shortening, butter, coconut oil, lard or some combination), 2 C flour, mix with pastry cutter until all dry flour is mixed in. Add 5 Tbs cold water and mix gently with a fork. Form two balls for rolling out on floured board, one for bottom, one for the top.)
- Filling (Mix about 3 C chopped washed rhubarb into 1” pieces, 2 C strawberries, 1 C sugar, ½ C flour, 1 Tbs quick-cooking tapioca, 2 Tbs orange juice or water.)
- Turn filling into pie shell. Cover with top pastry.
- Bake 450 oF for 15 minutes; reduce oven to 350 oF and bake for 25-30 min more. Let cool and serve plain or with whipped cream.
Rhubarb muffins with 2 C buckwheat flour and 1/4 C coconut flour. Delicious.
- Grease 2 muffin tins and preheat oven to 350 oF
- In large bowl, put 1 C Brown sugar and 1/4 C white sugar and 2/3 C liquid oil or butter.
- Cream sugar until smooth. Add one egg and one cup milk and mix well.
- Add 1 teas baking soda, 1 teas vanilla. Mix.
- Add 2 and ½ C flour (or flour blend – depending on the flour type you may have to slightly reduce amount so muffins are not too dry), 2 C rhubarb chopped fine (½ C raisin or ½ cup nuts or 2 Tbsp chia seeds).
- Fill to about 2/3 in the muffin tins. Bake 350oF for about 20 min.
Enjoy the taste of spring!