What is it about rhubarb — people either love it or hate it! Rhubarb is an old-time garden favorite, and my Southern grandmother always had a few plants tucked in amongst her roses. I remember her carrying a bundle of freshly cut red stalks from the garden into her kitchen and in no time at all, turn the stalks into a warm, rose-colored compote to spoon over vanilla ice cream. No doubt my own positive memory is associated with this delectable treat! However, it wasn’t until years later that I realized others didn’t share my fondness for rhubarb. Either they didn’t know what rhubarb was and hadn’t tasted it, or some didn’t like their first experience with it. How sad!
Although technically a vegetable, most use rhubarb like a fruit in pies, cakes, sauces, and jam. Since the first rhubarb in the spring arrives about the same time as strawberries, it’s often paired with strawberries in desserts or compotes. However, rhubarb is also delicious in savory dishes, such as soups, sauces, or infused in vinegar for salad dressings.
Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow, hearty perennial with long rosy-pink, red, or green stalks (depending on the variety) and large leafy tops — the leaves are toxic if ingested, so after cutting them off the stalks, toss the tops into the compost pile. If you’re buying rhubarb at the farmers market or grocery store, the leafy top of the stalks will have been removed. To buy the best rhubarb, look for fleshy, crisp, brightly colored stalks and avoid soft, wilted, or limp stalks.
To store, place stalks in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. When you’re ready to use them, wash the stalks and cut off the tough bottom pieces. Chop into pieces like you would celery.
Rhubarb freezes well, too. Chop the stalks into 1/2 to in inches pieces and place in a freezer bag and freeze.
Rhubarb contains antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A, K, and C, along with calcium, potassium, and magnesium. To get the most vitamin A, choose the very red stalks. They are also a little sweeter than the green or light pink stalks.
RECIPES: Spring Beets Salad with Goat Cheese and Rhubarb Vinaigrette, Seared Salmon with Rhubarb-Ginger Marmalade, Shelley Family Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb Onion Confit, Rhubarb Custard Pie, Rhubarb Crumble, Ginger Rhubarb Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler, Strawberry Rhubarb Limeade, Virginia’s Prize Winning Rhubarb Pie