rhubarb stalks

Rhubarb is a delectable but often obscure ingredient found in the delicious baked goods and jams served in cafes and natural food stores. Although often mistaken for a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable (notice the similarity to celery) and in some cases even considered an herb, as it is in the sorrel family. Recognized as a nutritional powerhouse, rhubarb is a making a comeback as a superfood because it is very low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, potassium and vitamin C. The plant is even said to speed up metabolism, making it a great option for weight loss when used in healthy recipes. What’s more, this fresh veggie can be turned into tantalizing, early spring treats!

Growing

If you have established rhubarb plants in the garden, their green leaves and stalks popping out of the ground are definitely signs of spring. As a hardy and low maintenance perennial, rhubarb is a welcome addition to any garden patch that has room for the leafy plant. The plant thrives in cool weather and full sun, but will do well in part shade in warmer climates. The crown of a rhubarb plant should be planted 1 to 2 inches below soil level. Large plants can be dug up and split into chunks for transplanting, as long as each chunk has established roots on it. Rhubarb also enjoys rich, well-drained soil, so placing rings of compost around the plant will make it very happy. As a rather pest-free plant, the only bugs to look out for are yellow-gray curculio beetles, which can be hand-picked and placed on nearby curly-dock, which is another host plant for this pest.

Harvesting

A full size plant will yield 2-6 pounds of rhubarb per season, depending on its health and quality of the soil. Production will be better in cooler and moister environments, which is why it likes spring, but may slow down once it gets hotter. If the rhubarb plant is young or has just been divided and transplanted, it should be harvested lightly. Try to pick stalks that are at least one inch thick, and pull them off the plant by a gentle downward and sideways pull at the base so you don’t leave a stub, which can induce rot. Continue to harvest 1-inch wide stalks off the plant during cooler weather, as this will encourage it to send out more shoots. In some cooler climates, rhubarb can also be harvested a second time during the fall. Make sure to cut off and compost the leaves and the top inch of the stalk, as the leaves are poisonous.

Eating!

After harvesting those beautiful pink-green stalks, its time to get to the fun part – eating it! Some people like raw rhubarb, but for most its astringent flavor and fibrous texture are too much. The 7 recipes below range from traditional to more unconventional dishes that turn your rhubarb into a juicy, flavorful and fresh feast!

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam – Tangy rhubarb and spicy ginger blend perfectly into this uniquely flavored jam that is a nice breakfast spread, PB&J option for the kids, or even as an ice cream topping. 
Scalloped Rhubarb – A zesty but sweet version of a scalloped vegetable, this is the perfect side dish to pair with roast chicken or roasted root vegetables.
Rhubarb Roly Poly – Super simple, quick and easy, this recipe can even be modified to cut down on the sugar. Serve for dessert with a sauce or as a sweet breakfast bread.
Fizzy Rosemary Rhubarb Cocktail – A vegetable and an herb in a cocktail? Amazingly refreshing and conveniently harvested from your garden, we urge you to give it a shot!
Homemade Rhubarb Juice – This recipe couldn’t be simpler, making it perfect when dealing with large amounts of rhubarb. You’ll end up with a pretty pink liquid that can be used in numerous dishes – even as ice cubes!
Spicy Rhubarb Soup – Well-suited for the adventurous foodie, this is one to definitely try before serving to guests. But if you like a bit of bite, you may have just found your favorite, new chilled soup!
Plum Rhubarb Pie – A seasonal twist to the old classic, this recipe offers up a fresh and densely fruity filling alongisde a slightly unusual crust recipe. 

If you are still left with copious amounts of rhubarb, you can choose to blanch and freeze it for later use, or even try turning it into vinegar or wine.

Image: adactio