Perennial Vegetables Series: Rhubarb

(Scroll to the bottom for recipes)

Planting Feeding and Harvesting

Rhubarb is a cold weather perennial meaning it has its heyday (a word from the German Heida meaning hurray) until the weather gets above 75 degrees F when it can start to wilt to protect the plant. They are a beautiful edition to an edible landscape with their brilliant red and green stems and large elephant-ear-type leaves. The stems are tart and if you ate them raw (which I don’t recommend) they resemble celery. Rhubarb has a beautiful history - many of you might remember that Laura Ingalls Wilder referred to rhubarb as “pie plant” in her book ‘The First Four Years. I also recently discovered that rhubarb was traded along the Silk Road with other historic goods like saffron, opium and cinnamon. Personally speaking, learned to love rhubarb while we lived in London where it is commonly found in most home gardens and allotments. For more recipes - look to the English. At the time I wrote this - the BBC recipes website had over 60 options for different ways to cook it both sweet and savory.

Rhubarb is a heavy feeder that prefers well drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in decomposed compost with a healthy dose of earthworm castings. It doesn’t like overwatering but do water it regularly. It reaches maturity usually by the third year so you want to limit harvesting the stems during the first two seasons in order to maximize root development. It’s best to give it morning sun and afternoon shade however, I did an experiment and planted a rhubarb bed between our house and our neighbor’s where it primarily receives filtered sunlight with only a few hours of direct light each day. So far it has thrived, and I have been able to harvest it all summer without it wilting in the heat, but I can’t guarantee it will always work - best practice is full sun. The biggest thing to be aware of is that the big beautiful leaves are toxic and you should only eat the stems. I heard an anecdotal tale of a restaurant owner who didn’t believe this and ended up semi paralyzed for a day. So chop off the leaves where they join the stems and compost them! Harvesting rhubarb is the funnest part. Wrap your hand around the stalk and slide it down to the crown. Pull and slightly twist it and the whole stem will just pop out. When my kids were little they would pull it with two hands and fall backwards to the ground laughing hysterically.

Potential Health Benefits

Not only is rhubarb beautiful and delicious, it is really good for you!
- Its fiber can potentially help lower your cholesterol. In one study, men with high cholesterol ate 27g of rhubarb stalks every day for a month and those conducting the study found that their bad LDL cholesterol was reduced by 9% and their circulating cholesterol by 8%.
- Rhubarb is such a great source of antioxidants and one study suggests that it might beat out Kale in polyphenols!!
- An average serving of rhubarb provides 45% of our daily requirements of vitamin K which can help with Alzheimer’s prevention, limiting neuronal damage to the brain, and is also essential to healthy bone development!
- Mercola Food Facts writes, “It contains infection-fighter vitamin C, the second most prominent vitamin, along with vitamin A, another powerful natural antioxidant for good skin and mucous membranes, good vision, and possible protection against lung and mouth cancers (the red stalks provide more than the green ones), with healthy additions of folate, riboflavin, niacin, B-vitamins, and pantothenic acid. Good mineral sources include 32% of the daily value in manganese per serving, along with iron, potassium, and phosphorus. While many believe milk is the best calcium source, one cup of cooked rhubarb contains just as much, and it's actually much better for you. In fact, rhubarb is on the short list with salmon and spinach for the highest amounts of calcium it provides.”
- As if this all were not enough, the root is popular in Chinese medicine for uses in various ways that include soothing upset stomachs.

Recipes:

Rhubarb Ginger Compote w/ 3 kinds of cream - Trust me it is worth every bite!

Ingredients:

1 kilo of rhubarb cut into 1 inch pieces

  • 1 cup of sugar

  • 1 thumb sized piece of very fresh peeled ginger chopped into match sticks and then into 1/8 inch pieces,

  • Vanilla custard cooled

  • Favorite high quality vanilla ice cream

  • Whipped cream

Steps:

  1. Place the rhubarb in a non-reactive pan & add half a cup of water. The rhubarb gives up liquid, quickly so while you add the water to keep it from burning, you don’t want to add too much so that it becomes too liquidy.

  2. Stir in the diced pieces of ginger and the sugar. 

  3. Turn the heat on high and stir. Watch carefully because you want it to soften but NOT become mushy. It will be ready in just a few minutes.

While it’s piping hot, serve with a good drizzle of the custard, a scoop of vanilla ice cream & finish with whipped cream.

Rhubarb Blackberry Crumble

Ingredients:
500g very ripe blackberries

500g rhubarb

1/2 a cup of sugar

For the Crumble

2 cups of oats

A stick of butter,

1/2 tsp of Cinnamon

1/2 cup of brown sugar

Steps:

  1. Toss the fruit in the 1/2 cup of sugar and put it in a non-reactive 9x9 pan (it will cook down).

  2. Mix the oats, brown, sugar, & butter together with your fingers until combined and spoon on top of the fruit.

  3. Bake at 400F for 35-40 minutes until the topping is golden & the fruit is bubbling.

  4. Serve with high quality vanilla ice cream.

For a sugar free, dinner treat - google Jamie Oliver's Marinated Pork Fillet Roasted on Rhubarb or look it up in his book “Happy Days With the Naked Chef" by Jamie Oliver”

Christina Manning Lebek