A sure sign of spring is the rhubarb making its move in the garden – spreading out and staking its claim hoping you won’t notice how much territory it has actually taken over. If you leave it alone to do its thing, you will wake up one morning with it next to you in bed…give it an inch, it takes a mile. This cheeky little plant is actually a vegetable – not a fruit as most people think. Its leaves are highly toxic and they shouldn’t be consumed by people or animals. The only edible part of the plant is actually the stalk and has a bonus; it is a great source of vitamin c and iron.
As kids my sister and I would pluck a stalk from the ground, wash it under the garden hose and spend most of the day wandering around with a gnawed stalk of rhubarb and a half empty bowl of sugar – it was really the only time we were allowed to eat sugar right out of the bowl. What an opportunity, even if it meant pretending to enjoy the rhubarb itself. Rhubarb is intensely tart but when cooked, sweetened or appropriately mixed with other fruit like strawberries it has an incredible flavour. It is delicious made into syrup, pies, cakes, jams, jellies, chutney and tarts. Rhubarb is close personal friends with ginger, pears, figs and raspberries and it loves meeting its friends inside a pie or crumble!
If you have to buy rhubarb you want to look for firm, crisp stalks with bright green, pink and pale red hues. If the stalks are limp or soft don’t bother, it is past its prime. Rhubarb can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days before you use it and it freezes really well. Wash, dry and cut the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces and freeze it in a plastic bag or container. This will give you the thrilling tartness of spring in the middle of winter or fall. Rhubarb isn’t just for dessert, it has its place in other food groups… you can make rhubarb simple syrup for martinis, rhubarb wine and rhubarb lemonade is delicious. There is no shortage of the stuff so be creative, get out of the rhubarb pie box and try something new, you may just discover a new way to get your kids to eat their veggies.