Seasonings: Rhubarb renovation

BY ALETHEA PRICE

Keeping with the theme of Kentucky spring crops, let’s get fresh with rhubarb. This tart stalk ranges in color from green to deep red and is topped with broad, bright-green leaves. Rhubarb grows in backyards and around farm buildings without much attention. Do pay attention to the fact that the leaves are poisonous to humans whereas the stalk is edible. The brightly colored stalks can be found in supermarkets as well as in farmer’s markets during the season. 

Rhubarb, a great source of vitamin C and calcium, is an easy to use, although it provides only a moderate source of fiber. One of the drawbacks is that because it is so tart, most recipes call for more sugar than most other desserts. By combining the stalks with sweeter fruits, like strawberries, the sugar content can be lowered quite a bit. Strawberries are a common partner with rhubarb but don’t let that defer you from introducing this veggie to new fruits. Believe it or not, rhubarb is also a great stand-alone snack.

Field-grown rhubarb is on the market shelves between April and June in most areas. Choose stalks that are well-colored, good-sized, straight, and firm. Sometimes, rhubarb is sold with the leaves attached; they should be fresh-looking and crisp. Avoid stalks that are wilted or floppy. 

After cutting off the leaves, wash the stalks. Store them in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator. Use within one week. (Caution: Rhubarb leaves contain a toxic substance that makes them poisonous. Be sure the leaves are removed before using the stalks. Discard them without cooking or eating.)

Before cooking, trim stalks at the top and bottom. Trim any bruised spots. Wash stalks. For sauces or stewing, cut the rhubarb into one- to two-inch chunks. If the stalks are fresh, the fibers can be cut easily and will soften when cooked. You can freeze rhubarb easily by washing, cutting and storing it in freezer safe containers. My tip for storage is to package the rhubarb in the amount necessary for a recipe.

The two popular cooking methods include baking and stewing for sauces. Rhubarb sauce is made by placing the cut pieces in a saucepan. A stainless steel or non-stick pan is preferred. Rhubarb is highly acidic and may react to some metals such as aluminum. Add 2/3 cup of water to the pan, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups of cut rhubarb (six to eight stalks). Reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for about five minutes, or until rhubarb is tender. Add sugar to taste; between 3/4 and one cup is sufficiently sweet for most people. If you like less sugar, start with a smaller amount and taste-test the fruit before serving. Cold rhubarb sauce will not taste as sweet. A common fruit that gets paired with rhubarb are strawberries. These recipes are easy to find and easy to prepare. Strawberry rhubarb conserve is so yummy on any toasted bread.

Ok everyone, I’ve provided you with some recipes that I have actually tried. They’re really good, trust me. This may be shocking to some, but none of the following recipes have strawberries in them. Don’t be afraid to try rhubarb on its own or paired with another ingredient in a recipe. Rhubarb is very friendly and plays well with others. Embrace the versatility of this tangy vegetable.

Tips for these recipes:

Rhubarb Crunch is absolutely delicious served hot or cold.

Rhubarb Spicy Onion Sauce is not spicy at all, add cayenne if you’d like some kick to it

Blend the Rhubarb Spicy Onion Sauce for a smoother product. It goes great with pork, chicken, or beef.

Do not freeze the rhubarb and berries prior to blending the Raw Rhubarb and Berry Relish. They lied, it is more difficult to blend that way. Pair with Havarti cheese on a cracker. Yum!

If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at thekitchenagent@gmail.com. 

Rhubarb Crunch

Serves 9

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal, quick-cooking

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup margarine, melted

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch slices

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, margarine and cinnamon until crumbly. Press half of mixture in the bottom of a 9X9-inch pan. Layer the rhubarb on top. In a separate pan, combine sugar and cornstarch until smooth, then add the water and vanilla. Cook over medium heat until the mixture is thick and clear. Pour the sauce over rhubarb. Top with remaining crumbs and bake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm.

Rhubarb Onion Spicy Sauce

4 cups

chopped rhubarb

2 cups

cider vinegar

4 cups

diced onion

1 teaspoon

salt (if desired)

½ teaspoon

pepper

1 teaspoon

celery salt

1 teaspoon

ground cloves

1 teaspoon

cinnamon

5 cups

brown sugar

Cook together the rhubarb and cider vinegar for 20 

minutes. Add the rest of ingredients and simmer for 1 

hour. Pour boiling hot into hot half pint jars, leaving ¼ 

inch headspace. Adjust caps. Process 15 minutes in 

boiling water bath. Yields 6 to 7 half pints.

Raw Rhubarb and Berry Relish

4 cups

rhubarb

2 cups

lingonberries or blueberries 

(Lingonberries make a more 

colorful relish.)

sugar to taste

Cut up and grind the rhubarb and berries. The rhubarb 

and berries grind better if they are frozen. Combine and 

add as much sugar as pulp, about 4½ cups or sugar to 

taste. This can be stored in the refrigerator for several 

weeks or it can be frozen.

Variation: Wash and grind 1 orange, peeling and pulp. 

Remove the seeds and add.