When I was a kid, my mom welcomed the new growth of rhubarb each spring. Orange juice was pretty expensive at that time of year and rhubarb, also rich in vitamin C, could be plucked for free from our garden. Stewed rhubarb over corn bread was a common spring time breakfast at our house and her apple and rhubarb pie was something to talk about. So good!
As an adult, I continue to eat stewed rhubarb and cornbread for breakfast each spring, and to try to replicate Mom’s pie recipe, but I’ve also expanded my repertoire to include rhubarb jelly (perfect and pale pink; lovely when stacked on the shelf and delicious to eat), rhubarb chutney, rhubarb and strawberry jam, rhubarb and sour cream pie, savoury rhubarb relish…The list is long and flavourful.
I have, for the past several years, lacked a vegetable garden. Unable to grow my own rhubarb, I am always happy to greet its first appearance at the farm market. It’s getting expensive though. It seems that fewer growers are bringing it to market, at a time when demand is increasing. That being the case, you can imagine how pleased I was to be offered an opportunity to harvest my own rhubarb from a nearby garden this week. I happily carried it home and set to work preserving it. Now I’ll enjoy it for months to come.
For those of you unfamiliar with rhubarb, it’s an herbaceous perennial plant that belongs to the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae. It has large, somewhat triangular, heavily veined leaves supported on thick stalks. Most popular rhubarb cultivars have red or pink stalks, but older varieties can be more green in colour. The leaves are poisonous but the stalks are tasty and very nutritious, containing calcium, lutein, vitamin K, and antioxidants including vitamin C. Rhubarb is a good source of dietary fibre.
Rhubarb tastes tart and somewhat astringent, which makes it an excellent savoury counterpoint to rich or fatty dishes. It is more commonly mixed with fruit or cooked with added sugar though, and incorporated into baked goods or jams.
I have yet to try a rhubarb dish I didn’t like. I’m now looking with delight at the jars of jelly and chutney in my pantry and I’m grateful for the bags of rhubarb I’ve set aside in the freezer. It’s like treasure in my kitchen.
If you haven’t tried rhubarb or if you’ve forgotten about it over the years, take some home next time you’re at the market. It’s a wonderful taste of spring time.