The World of Rhubarb

 

Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook



Rhubarb a 4500-Year-Old Friend and a plant from Antiquity
When you break out a bunch of rhubarb, most people will automatically look for the strawberries – the two go together …well, like the first fruits of spring. Since our spring produce is a bit behind schedule due to unpredictable weather, you may just have to try some other options-like rhubarb solo. Strawberries are still to come! Rhubarb is actually one of the rare perennial vegetables although most cooks seem to prefer it cooked as a fruit. There are plenty of ways to enjoy it on its own, in both sweet and savory preparations and I’ve given a few stellar recipes below.

 There are two basic varieties of edible rhubarb – hothouse and field-grown. The latter has a more acidic bite and a deeper color, though hothouse rhubarb has smoother flesh.

 

 How to select: Stalks should be firm and crisp, like celery. The darker the rhubarb, the sweeter it should be. Avoid limp, bruised stalks that are curled at the edges, and be sure avoid any stalks when the ends are decay or rotting. Make sure to discard any outer leaves that may be attached to the stalks- whether raw or cooked, they are inedible and can be toxic due to oxalic acid.

 How to prepare: If using the hothouse variety and the stalks seem stringy, shave the outer layer with a vegetable peeler. Rhubarb is at its best sliced and cooked down with a little sugar – either simmered on the stove or roasted; otherwise it can be extremely sour.

 How to store: Rhubarb can be refrigerated for up to a week in a plastic bag, but is best used within three days of purchase.

History: This vibrant red ‘celery-like’ vegetable’s medicinal uses and horticulture have been recorded in history since ancient China. Marco Polo, who knew all about the Chinese rhubarb root and how it was used as a laxative, a stimulant for the appetite and enhancing gallbladder function, wrote about it at length in his journals of travel in China.

A planting of rhubarb is recorded in Italy in 1608 and 20-30 years later in Europe. As a result of eastern Arabic influence and trade in Venice, Chinese rhubarb was widely used in European pharmacy. In 1778 rhubarb is recorded as a food plant in Europe. The roots of the Chinese type, which is a different species than our edible variety, are still used in medicine. The familiar, edible garden rhubarb is a hybrid that was developed during the nineteenth century, and the roots have no medicinal value. The earliest known usage of rhubarb as a food appeared as a filling for tarts & pies. Some suspect that this was a hybrid of the Chinese variety of rhubarb.

Early records of rhubarb in America point to an unnamed Maine gardener as having obtained seed or root stock from Europe between 1790-1800. He introduced it to growers in Massachusetts where its popularity spread and by 1822 it was sold in produce markets.

Baked Rhubarb-Master Recipe

 

This actually is an old-fashioned recipe for a rhubarb dessert however the process is exceptional for preparing the rhubarb for many different styles of recipes-sweet or savory.

Baked Rhubarb Jam



Prepare the rhubarb by shaving off the stringy outside threads with a vegetable peeler.

In a saucepan combine sugar, water lemon zest, juice and ginger root, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Place rhubarb in a baking dish; pour syrup over (it is not necessary to cover fruit with water since rhubarb has so much water). Cover dish and bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, until fruit is bubbly, stirring several times. Stir in the vanilla.

Chill and place in glass jars and refrigerate to save for other uses or serve immediately in dessert dishes with whipped cream, vanilla yogurt or ice cream.


‘In a Dash’ Rhubarb Ice Cream Sandwiches

Makes 10 sandwiches

One sandwich may just not be enough with this sweet-tart ice cream of spring. This is an excellent make-ahead treat so prepare the ice cream and make the cookies the day before. Assemble and freeze the sandwiches in advance to give them time to firm up. You can make the yummy cookies or purchase bakery-style oatmeal cookies.

  • 2  1/2 cups quality vanilla ice cream
  • 1 cup rhubarb jam or preserves (recipe above)
For the cookies:
Place the ice cream in a medium bowl and quickly fold in the rhubarb. Freeze immediately.

To Make the Cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until well combined and slightly fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated.

Using a 2-tablespoon measure, form the batter into balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Using an offset spatula or the palm of your hand (you can wet it if the dough is too sticky), flatten the dough into circles, until they are about 1/2-inch thick. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, until cooked though and golden around the edges. Cool completely.

To assemble the sandwiches: Pair each cookie with a like-sized partner. Scoop 1/4 cup of the rhubarb ice cream and place between the flat sides of the two cookies, press together, and place in a shallow dish. Serve the sandwiches immediately or freeze until ready to eat.


Rhubarb Chutney/Relish

With a nice balance of sweet and sour try this chutney to enliven poultry, meats and sandwiches.

  • 2 pounds rhubarb
  • 2 cups sweet onions, diced in 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 pint pickling vinegar
  • 2  1/2 cups light brown sugar (1 pound)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • pinch ground cloves

 

Wash and remove strings from rhubarb and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.

Place rhubarb and onions in a medium pot, cover with vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and boil for another 20 minutes, or until the chutney is cooked but still looks fresh and a bit chunky. Put into clean jars and keep refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks before using.

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest from 1 lemon and 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice to taste
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root (optional)
  • 1 pound rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces, about 3 cups
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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