Friday, June 1, 2012

All About Rhubarb!

" Rhubarb Memories"
 Rhubarb grows gloriously 
in a small patch
in a far corner of my yard
quietly magnificent.
When it is ready for picking,

the leaves large and glossy,
we cut the stalks and put them in a basket.
In the kitchen, we snip off the large leaves,
trims the ends, and wash them.

Soon the sauce is a'bubbling
the sweet aroma teasing.
The ham is so good and that sauce!
the table is bountiful with taste and talk.
We sit out in the porch swing after,
relishing the killer rhubarb sauce
left on our tongues, 

our taste buds still dancing.
We chop the rest of the stalks
and tuck them away in the freezer
 ready for a Thanksgiving feast
when rhubarb cannot be found,

grateful yet again for God's bounty.



Heated up quickly today, so by the time I finished watering and chores, about 10:00 am, I was already wishing I was inside. Right now it is 1:30 pm and 96F. You had better believe I am hiding inside!

The heat doesn't seem to affect the birds, though. The chickens handle it rather well, since they have a place to go inside away from direct sun. The wild birds have a voracious appetite and that isn't affected by heat, either. I am sitting here, watching them eating right outside my window.

One of my favorite flavors and plants is rhubarb. I think it is a genetic thing. My grandfather used to walk to work in Rhode Island and on Fridays, he would detour to a different route home that took him by a large field where wild rhubarb grew; He would pick it and bring it home for Grandma to cook for him and all the kids. I simply love that story, I can just see him doing that. He was such a dear old man. My Mother, as well, used to make rhubarb for us frequently...she used it in a multitude of desserts but her favorite was to simply stew it and put a dash of sugar on it, and serve it warm. Now we grow it in our garden!!

Although rhubarb took on the moniker of “pie plant” in the 1800s, rhubarb has a long, celebrated history that involves much more than pie. Our common culinary rhubarb is the rhubarb we cultivate for food. While related, there are other rhubarbs known in their native China as Da-huang, which are ancient medicinal plants. The astringent roots from these plants have been used as a purgative for more than 5,000 years since they have such a strong laxative action; and they have also been used for treating burns, dysentery, appendicitis, toothache, various skin maladies and more. All rhubarbs, both culinary and medicinal, are members of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), and the name is believed to have originated from the Grecian Rha, their word for rhubarb. The medicinal rhubarbs of the past had deeply lobed leaves, while the more recent culinary rhubarbs have huge, heart-shaped leaves with less-defined lobes.

The rhubarb stalk (petiole) ranges in color from bright red and green and is the only edible part of the plant. Many varieties of culinary rhubarb are downright showy and ornamental. Some of them are huge, some small. Some have fat, thick, ruby-red stalks, while others have pale, thin lime-green stalks, and all of them have prolific leaf growth. The leaves of all rhubarb plants are toxic and should never be eaten; they have caused many fatalities around the globe. The leaves contain calcium oxalates and anthrone glycosides that are deadly to humans.

Rhubarb is used as a food and in beverages in Europe and America, although the Chinese also make wine and liquors from rhubarb stalks, and the Italians make a well-known liqueur called Zucca or rabarbaro from rhubarb. There are numerous recipes for alcoholic fermentations; rhubarb wine was very popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and Europe.

In reality, rhubarb is a leafy vegetable. However, in 1947, the U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, New York, passed an official ruling that rhubarb should be classified as a fruit, since that is how it is principally eaten. Mostly, we think of rhubarb as a dessert, or prepared in confections like pies, tarts, compotes, puddings, stewed fruit, jellies, jams, sweet sauces, crisps and crumbles. The British love their rhubarb with custard or a rhubarb crumble with a layer of custard. I believe these sweet treatments of the rhubarb stalks are a result of the general reaction to its tartness. Since it is very tart to the palate, most recipes add sugar or sweetener to counteract the sourness.  

Native to Asia and Europe and grown in both temperate and subtropical climates, this perennial plant has long stalks and large leaves. Rhubarb requires a cold season to flourish; it likes a winter where the temperatures go to at least 40 degrees or below (it needs this to break dormancy), making it an ideal choice for northern climates. Once temperatures reach between 75 to 80 degrees, plant growth slows down. Gardeners living in southern climes have had some success growing it as an annual, planting it in early spring.

Rhubarb is best started from root divisions or by cutting crowns and dividing them, making sure that each division has a piece of crown, or bud and root enough to grow. You can get these from nurseries or catalogues, or from friends who are dividing their rhubarb plants. Plant the roots in early spring in fertile, well-drained soil that is enriched with organic matter like compost and aged manure; it does best with a pH between 6 and 6.5. Rhubarb will do best in full sun, however, it can grow in some partial shade, but plants and yield will be smaller. Some gardeners plant in hills and others in rows; plant about 3 to 4 feet apart and cover the roots so that the buds or crowns are covered with about 2 inches of soil. It is important to water well for the first few months, especially if it is dry. Straw or leaf mulch is a good idea to retain moisture and discourage weed growth.

It is important to keep rhubarb free of weeds and to keep the seed stalks cut back. Once it produces seed stalks, growth and production of petioles (leaves) slows down. The first year plants should be harvested sparingly; thereafter, the entire plant can be harvested. Stalks can be harvested by pulling them out from the base one at a time or cutting them at soil level with a sharp knife. The entire plant can be harvested all at once or anytime during its growing season as needed. Depending on the individual plants and the climate, harvest season starts in May or June sometimes there will be a second harvest in August. After the first harvest, or when the plants start putting out small and thin petioles, it is time to stop harvesting and give the plants a rest. If watered during the hotter weather, plants may produce again during the cooler weather of September or October. This depends totally on type of plant and where and how they are grown.

Rhubarb cultivars are plentiful – they come in green, pink and red, some with 10-inch-long leaves, while others reach 18 inches. Red does not necessarily mean more mature or better flavor; pink and green are just as delicious. And bigger does not always mean better; sometimes the smaller stalks are more tender. In season, choose fresh, firm stalks that are glossy and aren’t limp and ones that are free of brown spots. Editor's Note:You are gonna want to use Aunt Ruth's tip of freezing them for use in the winter months when you can't find any rhubarb and you just HAVE to make today's killer sauce!! Don't miss it in the Garden Goodies section today!

To store fresh rhubarb, place it in a plastic bag, unsealed, and refrigerate for two weeks; it is best used as soon as possible.

Stalks can be cut crosswise into slices like celery or diagonally into 1/2- or 1-inch pieces. They can also be cut crosswise into 1 1/2- or 2-inch lengths and then julienned for a different texture.

If rhubarb is old or fibrous, remove some of the strings. Since rhubarb cooks so quickly and becomes soft, you can leave most of them without a problem.

Preserve rhubarb by cutting the stalks into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. They can be packed raw into containers or placed in freezer ziplock bags, but be sure to label and date before freezing. Or blanch for 1 minute, drain and cool; pack into containers or freezer ziplock bags; be sure to label and date before freezing.

To stew rhubarb for making a sauce or puree, combine 1 generous cup sliced rhubarb with 1/4 cup sugar in small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir and cook for 2 minutes until sugar dissolves, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Rhubarb should be tender with some liquid in pan. This can be eaten as is, spooned over ice cream, custard, scones, cake, etc., or pureed. Use the puree in cocktails, beverages or as a sauce. Store in a jar in refrigerator or freeze in container; label and date.

To make syrup, combine 2 cups sliced rhubarb with 1/2 cup water and 2/3 cup sugar in small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir and bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, press through sieve with spoon. Transfer to jar and store in refrigerator for 1 week; label and date. This syrup makes a great addition to any fruit salad, dessert or beverage and makes an innovative margarita, mojito, cosmopolitan or daiquiri.

Although rhubarb is easily frozen, it also can be canned in sugar syrup – check your canning guide for amounts and processing time.

The flavor of rhubarb pairs nicely with strawberries, oranges, apples and ginger.Rhubarb contains vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium. Editor's Note:Since rhubarb is high in oxalic acid content, people with kidney stones should not eat it. Also those with a low calcium absorption rate should not consume rhubarb. 

   One day two rhubarbs, who were best friends, were walking together down the street. They stepped off the curb and a speeding car came around the corner and ran one of them over. The uninjured rhubarb called 911 and helped his injured friend as best he was able. The injured rhubarb was taken to emergency at the hospital and rushed into surgery. After a long and agonizing wait, the doctor finally appeared. He told the uninjured rhubarb, "I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that your friend is going to pull through." "The bad news is that he's going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life".


This is the sauce you have been looking for your entire life! It will make your taste buds tap dance and your tummy say "Howdy!" This sauce is so good that when Aunt Ruth or a family member lose the recipe, we call each other, hoping someone can get their hands on it easily so they won't have to go hunt for it!

You Will Need:

(1/4) cup hot water
(1/2) cup cherries
(1)T Balsamic vinegar
(2) cups rhubarb, sliced into small squares
(1) T oil
(1) tsp salt
(3) T white sugar
nutmeg to taste

(1/4) cup hot water

(1/2) cup cherries
1T Balsamic vinegar
Mix and set aside

(2) cup rhubarb, sliced into small squares
saute with (1) T oil and (1) tsp salt.
Add cherry mixture and 3T white sugar and nutmeg to taste.
Cook to desired not overcook or it will burn.
Sauce may thicken as it cools. Better to be underdone than overdone.

Serve with ham, fish, any meat really, or as a dessert sauce over vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

So tuck this recipe away on your computer or print it out and tuck it in your primary cookbook! 
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