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Rhubarb: A Wonderful Taste Sensation from the North
Another recollection of those warm and familiar days growing up, was the rhubarb patch. Some mighty fine things were made in the kitchen from that hardy perennial that originated in Siberia. Many of you from the northern third of the country are familiar with this plant, that thrives on being frozen over all winter.
If you don’t have your own patch, it’s easy enough to get one started. You’ll want to start with two- or three-year-old roots that a neighbor will likely be more than happy to give you, as it spreads through seeding. The best time to plant is in spring or fall, and for one family more than three or four plants are sufficient. Dig a hole where it will be handy in the spring to harvest, put in a layer of manure or compost, and then plant the root. Cover with an inch of dirt, space the other roots to plant by three feet. Don’t harvest the first year with the spring planted rhubarb, but the fall planting can be harvested the following spring.
The edible part is the red stalks. Do not eat large amounts of rhubarb leaves, even when cooked, as they can cause convulsions, coma, and then a rapid death. The root is poisonous, as well. This is NOT an old wives’ tale, so please do not test it.
The stalks are easy to remove, either cut them with a knife or twist off. They can be eaten at any size, but don’t waste the stalks if under eight inches. Most people pick the largest ones first, but leave about a third of the plant to make its food from. The stalks will get woody and seed at the top when it starts to warm up, but pulling off the seed stalks will allow the plant to produce more. It is all right to compost the discarded leaves, but don’t feed them to your livestock.
A 5-year-old plant is ready to be divided. Cut off parts of the root with a sharp bladed shovel and transplant. Rhubarb will seed after the first year, but the seed will reduce stalk production. Unless you’d like to sell the seeds, don’t waste the seeding in favor of stalks.
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Thinly slice or chop the unpeeled red stalks. You can sweeten them with a honey solution or sprinkle with sugar before drying them for snacks. Spread in a single layer over a drying surface. Dry in a food dehydrator or in the over at 120 degrees F. Rotate the trays as needed. If you dry it without sweetener, add boiling water in an equal amount and allow to stand, then use it as you will.
Rhubarb Leather Snack
Wash and cut up pulp. Good leather mixes with rhubarb are dates, raspberries, or strawberries. Rhubarb will stain a metal sheet, so be certain to place plastic under the fruit first, and don’t allow the rhubarb under the plastic.
Wash and cut into ½” pieces. Mix in ½ to 1 cup of sugar per quart. Let stand several hours to draw out the juice. Heat to a boil, pour the rhubarb and syrup into hot jars. Cover with hot liquid from its cooking, but leave a ½ “ of headspace. Process in a hot water bath(boiling, or course). Process for either pints or quarts at 1,000 feet above sea level for 15 minutes; 1,001 – 6,000 feet above sea level for 20 minutes, above 6,000 feet for 25 minutes.
Wash stalks and cut into ½” pieces. Blanch for 1 minute if you prefer, but it isn’t necessary. Cool, and then pack into bags or container of choice, close, and place in freezer. You can pack with syrup or a sugar sprinkling, but leave headspace for expansion.
Slice trimmed stalks into ½” pieces. If cooked over very gentle heat, rhubarb usually makes its own juices and needs no additional water. Simmer until you have a sauce. Either sweeten to taste or mix with a sweet fruit, like strawberries, raspberries, dates, or figs.
Fill uncooked flour pie shell with a quart of fresh, frozen, or canned rhubarb. For a sweetener, use ½ to a whole cup of sugar, or mix a half quart of rhubarb with equal amount strawberries, raspberries or dates without sugar. You can top with a lattice or solid crust or leave untopped. Bake for an hour at 350 degrees F. Serve warm or ice cold. My favorite is ice cold!
Place 1½” pieces of rhubarb in pot with just enough water to cover. Add ½ cup sugar(I like mine a little tart, so add more if you like your cooked fruit sweet). Stir and cook until rhubarb softens and breaks apart. This is great for a breakfast supplement in a dish, on toast, or as a dessert.
Welcome to the world of rhubarb and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have!