Use Rhubarb in Your Recipes
Rhubarb a Fruit or Vegetable?
Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? Rhubarb recipes treat the stalky plant more as a fruit, as you'll often find the ruby colored food in desserts and jams or jellies. But technically, rhubarb is a vegetable. We eat the stems of the poisonous plant - avoid the leaves and roots because they are toxic!
Rhubarb is a healthy ingredient to include in your diet. Its high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber, and low in calories (only 26 calories per cup of chopped rhubarb). Even though we don't eat the leaves of the plant, you can still safely prepare rhubarb for your family's enjoyment.
The slightly sweet, tangy stalks can be incorporated into many dishes to add interesting, unique flavor. It's a versatile vegetable found in many summer recipes, from cobbler and crumble to jams and pies. You'll also find rhubarb showcased in main dishes (Rhubarb Beef) and appetizers (Rhubarb Salsa).
How to Select Rhubarb
If you are shopping for rhubarb at your local market, be sure to select stems that are crisp and firm, without any yellowing of leaves or brown spots. The color should be moderately to deep pink/red on the outside with greenish color in the center. When rhubarb stems are picked too late, they may be pithy and tough.
Should you have any doubts about the freshness of the rhubarb for sale, pass it up. You can find a better selection at another market or grocery store.
Once your rhubarb is home, stand the stalks in cold water for an hour to refresh before cooking or chopping. Rhubarb can be chopped into one-inch pieces (as shown in the photo above) and then used immediately in your recipes, or refrigerated, canned or frozen.
Prepare and Store Rhubarb
Rhubarb is in season starting in May and lasting through August. They are harvested by twisting and pulling the stalks straight from the ground.
Fresh rhubarb can be used immediately as a cooking ingredient, but if you don't have plans for it right away, you should refrigerate, can or freeze it. Stalks will stay fresh for up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.
If you'd rather store cooked rhubarb rather than fresh, you'll want to first prepare it. 3-4 stalks of rhubarb is approximately 1 pound. When cooked, you'll have about 3/4 cup.
Peel off any stringy coverings, remove leaves and chop the rhubarb stalks into 1-inch cubes (discard leaves and trim ends first). Place into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer over low heat until tender. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Cooked rhubarb will last up to a month in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer.
Grow Your Own Rhubarb
One of the most gratifying parts of cooking (in my humble opinion) is growing or raising your own ingredients. Fortunately, its really easy to grow your own rhubarb. The perennial plant is very hardy and can live for decades with little care. No green thumb required!
Can you believe that rhubarb does well with little water and fertilizer? Perfect in my garden, I'd say!
If you are going to grow rhubarb chard from seeds, you'll need 60 days from planting to harvest. Sow the seeds directly into fertile soil and cover with 1/2 inch additional soil. However, many gardeners agree that rhubarb is best grown from rhubarb crowns rather than seed. In early spring, space the plants 12-15 inches apart. Do not plant until danger of hard frost has passed. Once soil temps reach 40-50 degrees F, the crowns will break winter dormancy and start re-growth.
As with most plants, rhubarb enjoys a well-drained soil to prevent rot. Slightly acidic (pH 6.0-6.8) is preferred. Organic matter helps improve the quality of the soil.
Don't allow rhubarb to flower. If a seed stalk develops, then be sure to trim away as soon as possible because the energy required to produce the seed and flower will diminish leaf stalk yield (which is what you'll need for your rhubarb recipes).
Rhubarb can be grown in a vegetable garden or even in smaller containers on a porch or patio. Plants thrive in full sun or partial shade, and generally does best in cooler climates (like my native Pacific Northwest).
Rhubarb Crumble - the King of Rhubarb Desserts
Favorite Rhubarb Recipes
I remember making Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam with my grandmother years ago. I still love the tangy goodness spread on buttery toast. My absolute favorite, however, is Rhubarb Crunch, aka Rhubarb Crumble.
Here's our family recipe:
- 3 c. coarsely chopped rhubarb stems
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 3 T flour
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 c. oats
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. butter
- 1 t. vanilla extract
Directions: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 13X9 inch glass pyrex dish.
Combine the rhubarb, granulated sugar, vanilla and 3 T. flour. Put into the pan. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, oats, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Use a fork to cut in butter. Sprinkle crumble/crunch topping over rhubarb.
Bake at 325 for 40 minutes. Allow to sit for 5 minutes after removing. Serve hot or cold - excellent with vanilla ice cream or topped with 1/2 cup cold whole milk!
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© 2010 Stephanie Hicks
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