There has been a lot of skepticism about Rhubarb lately. Most of our CSA members seem a bit bewildered by it. No one really knows quite what to do with it. Rhubarb is not well known here in southern California it seems. Most people have a vague idea about what it is, they remember their grandmother used to make rhubarb pies when they were kids. Everyone seems to know it pairs well with strawberries. That’s about it. I grew up with huge rhubarb plants in our garden. We would suck on the sour stalks when we were kids and eat rhubarb crisp regularly.
We recently brought back a number of rhubarb rhizomes from an old homestead site near where I lived in eastern Washington. The rhubarb stands as the only sign that anyone ever lived in this spot. It was planted well over 100 years ago by some tough mountain homesteader, and has continued to grow and re-seed itself in the fertile soil long after all traces of human habitation are gone. I have no idea what variety this rhubarb is, but the plants have proven themselves to be of the toughest sort, surviving drought, wild fires, frigid winters and the tromping and munching of cattle herds.
Rhubarb patch gone feral on site of 100-year-old homestead.
Rhubarb is a plant native to China that has been cultivated for thousands of years. The edible stalks are rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber, and the large green leaves are poisonous. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals which can cause serious problems if eaten. It is a cool season, perennial plant that is very winter hardy and resistant to drought. High heat will cause it to go into a dormant phase, and the cooling weather will send up a new crop of foliage. The plants get quite large, they can easily reach 4 feet in diameter and over 3 feet tall. Rhubarb grows best in rich soil that has been amended with composted manure and organic matter. Once established the plants can grow for many years.
The main question everyone seems to have is “so what do I do with it?” What can’t you do with rhubarb is a better question. It has a tart, unique flavor that lends itself well to baked goods. There are many recipes out there for rhubarb, including, breads, cakes, cobblers, crisps, fools, crunches, and crumbles, cookies, jams, jellies, conserves, preserves and marmalades. There are also many more savory recipes, including sauces, chutney, relish, salsa, compote and rhubarb pickles.
Here is a simple and tasty recipe for
4 cups rhubarb, cut into 3/4 ” pieces
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter
1. Combine rhubarb, sugar, flour and cinnamon and put into 8″ x 8″ x 2″ glass baking dish.
2. Combine flour, brown sugar, rolled oats and melted butter and sprinkle streusel over rhubarb mixture.
3. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
4. Serve warm or cool (excellent accompaniment to ice cream)