Content contributed by Keith and Laura Padgett
Of all the fruits and veggies you’ll find in the produce aisle, rhubarb is quite likely the most complicated and enigmatic. A study in contrasts, rhubarb grows in long, dark red, celery-like stalks, but boasts bright green leaves. While rhubarb is technically a vegetable, it’s frequently paired with sweet-tasting fruits such as strawberries or cooked with heavy doses of natural or artificial sweeteners to mask its tart flavor. The stalk of the rhubarb plant boasts numerous medicinal uses for such ailments as irregularity and gastrointestinal disorders, yet its leaves are considered toxic due to their high oxalic acid content. Rhubarb is not an easy vegetable to cook, but it’s worth the exertion since it packs a mighty nutritional punch, supplying Vitamins C, E, and K as well as potassium, calcium, and fiber.
To grow rhubarb, plant rhizomes in either spring or fall, preferably in the spring to allow roots to get established. Full sun is best, although it will do well in partial shade. Space rhizomes about 3’ apart, cover about 2” deep, and water well. Do not harvest the first year to allow the plant to get well established. Remove flower stalks as soon as they appear because if allowed to mature, the leaf stalks will be thinner. You may need to thin your rhubarb garden every 4-5 years depending on plant growth (stalks will become smaller). Harvest when stalks are approximately 1” diameter. Cut at ground level or pull with a slight twisting action. Only use stalks that are firm, not soft. Cut off the leaf and compost.
Here are a few rhubarb recipes to get you started:
Pa Padgett’s Rhubarb Pie (from Keith and Laura Padgett, http://livinwhatyouregiven60.wordpress.com/)
¾ cup sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch
3 cups rhubarb (mostly drained)
2 cups strawberries (mostly drained)*
1 deep dish pie crust**
1/3 cup flour**
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 ½ Tbs soft butter
½ cup chopped nuts (pecans)
For filling, mix rhubarb and berries together, and then mix in sugar and cornstarch. For topping, mix dry ingredients together, blend in soft butter, and then add nuts last. Bake at 375° in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes uncovered, then cover with aluminum foil and continue baking for and additional 30 minutes plus, until bubbly on top. Let cool and serve with whipped cream, ice cream or other toppings.
* May use other fruits as desired
** For gluten-free, use GF flours and crusts
Rhubarb Custard Bars (from www.cookinglight.com)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
9 Tbs chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups 1% low-fat milk
3 large eggs
5 cups (1/2 inch) sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb (unthawed)
½ cup sugar
½ cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese
½ cup (4 ounces) block-style 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed
Mint sprigs (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare crust, lightly spoon 1 ½ cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 ½ cups flour, ½ cup sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture into a 13 X 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
To prepare topping, place ½ cup sugar, cheeses, and vanilla in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Gently fold in whipped toping; spread evenly over baked custard. Cover and chill a least 1 hour. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.
Yields 36 servings
131 calories, 4.2 g fat, 2.5 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 29 mg cholesterol
Rhubarb Crisp (from www.eatingwell.com)
1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb
½ cup chopped peeled apple
3 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp instant tapioca
¼ tsp plus 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 Tbs old-fashioned rolled oats (not steel cut or instant)
1 ½ Tbs packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbs finely chopped pecans
1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1/8 tsp salt
Preheat over to 350°.
Toss rhubarb, apple, granulated sugar, tapioca and ¼ tsp cinnamon in a medium bowl. Divide between two 10-ounce (1 ¼ cup) oven-safe ramekins or custard cups.
Mix flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans, butter, syrup, salt and the remaining 1/8 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl until crumbly. Sprinkle over the rhubarb mixture.
Bake until bubbling and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Yields 2 servings
259 calories, 9 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 47 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 3 g fiber
For more rhubarb recipes, check out the rhubarb website and Rhubarbaria: Recipes for Rhubarb by Mary Prior.