A Tale of Rhubarb 1

A Tale of Rhubarb

Rhubarb. Usually there are three responses when I ask the question “Do you like rhubarb?” They are reliably accompanied by facial expressions:

1. Facial expression: puzzlement and slight trepidation

Accompanying answer “I’ve heard of it but never tried it”

2. Facial expression: I just sucked on the most vile thing ever

Accompanying answer (emphatically) “NO” (sometimes “eww” or “yuck”)

3. Facial expression: “heavenly rapture remembering the most delicious flavor ever”

Accompanying answer “I LOVE rhubarb but I never get to eat it!”

I am firmly in the #3 camp or at least I was. Prior to 2007 the last time I had eaten rhubarb (and gotten that facial expression) was during a road trip we took to central Indiana in 2003 to attend an Amish auction. I don’t know which I was more excited about – the Amish food or the auction. Both turned out to be winners that day. At the auction I got, among other things, a glass circa 1920s chicken watering device that I display as sculpture. After that we went to the restaurant and had not only pure rhubarb pie (not ruined by the presence of strawberries) but “white” (green) rhubarb pie. I had two pieces.

So the first thing we did when we got The Yarden built was tromp out and find two rhubarb plants. One typical red (Valentine) and one “white/green” (Victoria) and put them in.

Here I must note, as all good rhubarb storytellers are obliged to do, these plants get big and don’t like to be moved. We, in our enthusiasm, chose to ignore this information and put them somewhere where, two years later, they needed to be moved from. Luckily they survived and are now flourishing in their new spots where they are playing dual role of food and landscape plant. Their big, Jurassic looking leaves are a nice feature in a Zone 5 garden where nothing truly tropical can survive the winter.

Rhubarb is called “Pie Plant” and I have also heard it called “Grandma Plant” because it is often associated with old lady gardens and has somewhat fallen out of favor. This is a sad, sad state of affairs because rhubarb is a versatile plant that imaginative cooks can do a lot with.

Personally I am very attached to rhubarb for sentimental reasons. When my family moved to an even more rural location in Oregon in 1970, my mother put in a rhubarb plant. Per the above – long living and huge – the plant is still there. Ginormous. It provides enough stalks for more rhubarb goodness than my parents, their church friends and neighbors can eat. By the end of the summer my dad rides over it with the lawnmower. As much as we all love rhubarb, I think he enjoys this end of season ritual because, even as true enthusiasts, you can only eat so much of anything.

My mother is an excellent cook and, luckily, I liked cooking from an early age. She jokes that I showed my cooking enthusiasm from the get go because my favorite occupation as a tiny girl was sitting on the kitchen floor and banging on a pot with a wooden spoon. Rhubarb compote or “melted rhubarb” was one of the first things I learned to make. It is good for kids because you can use a plastic knife to cut it.

The below is more instructions than a recipe but you can’t go wrong with it so give it a try with any quantity you have.

Take a big armful of rhubarb and cut the leaves and the stems off. Chop it into 1” pieces.

A Tale of Rhubarb 2

Get a big stock pot ready. Wash the rhubarb and with the water still clinging to it, put it in the stockpot on medium heat. Once the rhubarb starts melting it is very juicy so it is better to add less water at the beginning. Start with a ½ – 1 cup of sugar. [We always liked to use brown sugar because it gave it a deeper flavor but white sugar is good too.] Stir it all together and let it cook. It will begin to cook down. Stir it often. It will begin to get stringy and become a deep, beautiful reddish/brown color. Taste it and add more sugar as necessary. It is done when the individual chunks have disappeared and it is a thick liquid mass.

To me a pot of melted rhubarb on the stove, cooled to room temperature or still slightly warm is heaven. You can serve it on ice cream or with vanilla pudding or over pound cake. Or just eat it plain.

This is the first thing we did with the rhubarb in The Yarden and it was a taste of heaven. Just like I remembered it…

So tell the truth… do you like rhubarb? How do you like to eat it?

LaManda copyAwarded honorable mention in Mayor Daley’s Landscape Competition for 2009, LaManda Joy’s 1,700 square foot, heirloom organic garden in Chicago’s 40th Ward is a laboratory and teaching ground for friends and neighbors. Her blog, theyarden.com chronicles the joys and challenges of urban gardening, entertaining, cooking and food preservation and reflects the skills and passion of its veteran creator.

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  1. love it.
    I cut the leaves off while still in the garden, and place them in the path or next to plants, as short term weed discouragers.
    I like rhubarb shortcake, or compote on whole wheat waffles, or with some strawberry jello made into fruit leather (tangy sweet, yum).

  2. The “Grandma Plant” label is great! Every summer, my 85+ year old mother-in-law brings her rhubarb down from Michigan to our Texas reunions. She concocts a delicious combination of just-the-right-sweet and just-the-right-sour. As far as she’s concerned, mixing in other fruits is a “waste of good rhubarb.” I haven’t been brave enough to try to duplicate her pies, so I make rhubarb “crisps” instead.

    It’s my understanding that the leaves are poisonous. I don’t think that’s an urban legend.

    At last year’s reunion, we made t-shirts. Maybe we should put rhubarb pie on them this this year!

  3. I love it WITH strawberries in pie. My current “problem” is that it requires so much sugar to make it enjoyable. One solution I ran across was to mix the cooked rhubarb with applesauce. It required a fraction of the sugar plus a little stevia to be enjoyable. I’d love to hear any other ideas for how to enjoy it with less sugar.

  4. I used to live in Indiana and LOVED going to Amish auctions! For any readers who’ve never gone to one I have some advice – don’t pass up the opportunity if it presents itself! The food at the food stand is heavenly and the opportunity to purchase some history is thrilling.

    Now – on to rhubarb! Our 1880s home came with a large rhubarb plant that we replanted. It didn’t survive the move. We found a large elephant rhubarb plant on Freecycle and that one didn’t mind moving on over to our garden. We now have a total of four rhubarb plants and run out of opportunities to use it all. I’d appreciate more recipes. 🙂
    .-= Kari´s last blog ..My friend Susan’s indoor greenhouse =-.

  5. LOVE rhubarb! Pie, bread, muffins, but most of all in a chutney to go on pork or chicken. I can’t wait for spring – rhubarb and asparagus are the first things to appear in the farmer’s markets.
    .-= Wendy (The Local Cook)´s last blog ..Free Ebook: An Introduction to CSAs =-.

  6. oh! Another non food idea is to use the leaves to make stepping stones. We had some concrete available and using the ribbed side up for the bottom of the mold, and sand around the edges to keep the concrete in place while curing, we made thick (4″?) stones that have last 10 years or so so far. The shape and ribbing are still quite rhubarb-ish. I like them.

  7. That Amish auction sounds awesome! How do you hear about them?

    I’ve had rhubarb twice–once with strawberries in a pie that was Facial expression #3, and once in a type of stew that was accompanied by Facial expression #2. So I *think* I like it…more tasting is needed!
    .-= Kait Palmer´s last blog ..Wardrobe Challenge Day 19 & Run for Mobility =-.

  8. I’ve been trying to make a good use of it. Not being able to have sugar, let alone the fact that I think it takes too much sugar to make it taste good for others to eat, its been tricky to make use of the large plant that we had at our house when we moved here. Last year I froze all of it…but its still in my freezer. Yikes. Anyone have good suggestions to use it without any sugar?

  9. I’m definitely in the “love it but never get to eat it” clan. I’ve had it maybe once in my almost 8 years of marriage! My mother as a child used to eat it fresh from the garden, dipped in sugar between each bite. I love it in crisp. Definitely without strawberries.

  10. I absolutely love rhubarb. We have one plant in our garden. It isn’t very big yet, but I have grand visions all the things I will make when it will be one of those huge, abundant producers.

    One way I cut back on the sugar is to pair it with another sweet fruit, like blueberries or strawberries. It still requires some sweetener, like honey or sucanat, but not nearly as much.

    My neighbor brought me a bunch of rhubarb from her parents’ house last summer because her whole family hates it. But it came out later that the only way they’d had it was plain from the garden (no sugar or anything!) because that was how her grandpa had always eaten it. So I wonder if most people who have “YUCK!” reactions have never eaten rhubarb the “right” 😉 way?

  11. looooooove rhubarb! However, I’m in the same straits as some others – I have cut out refined sugars this year. I may make some with some rapadura, though, just for a once-a-year treat.

  12. I love it. Although I don’t always know what to do with it. I make strawberry rubarb pie and raspberry rubarb cobbler. But I love the idea of the compote on waffles. And I’m also thinking I could add some to ricotta and eat with french toast.
    .-= Creative2xmom´s last blog ..Ukraine 1999 =-.

  13. Oh, I love rhubarb.
    Sadly I turned down a beautiful bunch a few weeks ago because I had an overflow of plums.
    My mother fed us stewed rhubarb and yoghurt on muesli for breakfast and apple-rhubarb pie with custard will always remind me of the old house and our childhood.

    I told my grandfather a few months ago how a cooked cup of rhubarb has more calcium than a glass of milk so he started eating it on cereal everyday. However further reading teaches me that the calcium in cooked rhubarb cannot be absorbed, I can’t bear to break his new routine, the rhubarb keeps him happy.

    One of my favourite recipes for rhubarb is a tea cake, I haven’t had it in years.

    1 1/2 cups brown sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    2 eggs lightly beaten
    1 cup Butter milk
    1 tsp B.carb soda
    1 tsp salt
    2 1/2 flour
    1 tsp vanilla
    3 cups rhubarb –roughly chopped

    cream brown sugar and butter together, mix in egg.
    fold in milk and dry ingredients alternately, fold in rhubarb.
    sprinkle on top a mix of –
    1/2 cup of brown sugar & 1 tsp cinnamon

    bake in moderate oven – 170C (350F) for 45-1hr

  14. We enjoy rhubarb mainly in strawberry rhubarb pie. The comment above about the recipe requiring lots of sugar, I agree but it is so nummy! I put almond extract in it too. Otherwise we just dip rhubarb in sugar and enjoy!

  15. I really like cooking the rhubarb with plain homemade applesauce and blending it all together. With more apples then rhubarb I don’t add ANY sugar and thinks it’s delicious! But I guess you have to expect a slightly tart treat, not a super sweet dessert.

  16. i made something kind of like your example above, only we also add strawberries, then you need less sugar, i think. my grandma used to make it that way all the time and called it cram. yummmmmm….
    .-= Jodi´s last blog ..FMSC =-.

  17. I have loved the strawberry rhubarb pie I had a chance to eat in Amish country here in Pennsylvania when on vacation with my parents when I was young. Now that I am building a garden and appreciate the idea of plants that you plant once and they come back year after year, I tried to get some rhubarb plants locally, but, they did not survive the transplant process. I still have “the perfect” place in my garden for a rhubarb plant or two, but, I just don’t know where to get a plant that is big enough and strong enough to get established in that spot. If anyone knows o a place in the SE PA area, I’d appreciate a heads up.

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