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Cooking with homegrown rhubarb

Corinne Powell

Corinne Powell

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Rhubarb Strawberry Topping

This sauce is excellent as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, pound cake and a bowl of fresh fruit, gingerbread or yogurt. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days.

10 stalks rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

4 cups hulled, quartered strawberries

1

1/2 cups sugar

1 cup orange juice

Zest of one orange, grated

Zest of one lemon, grated

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, skimming of foam as it collects. Remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold or warm. Reheat if desired. Keeps for four days in the refrigerator. Makes 8 cups.

Updated: June 16, 2013 6:02AM



Rhubarb is as hardy as a weed. If you are growing rhubarb in your backyard right now, it is probably making its presence known. It is a very beautiful garden plant, with huge extravagant, lush green leaves and pink or red stalks.

Rhubarb is an ancient plant as well. Chinese rhubarb has been traced back to 2700 B.C. According to folklore, Chinese doctors recommended it for its medicinal qualities as a laxative, to reduce fever and cleanse the body. Rumor has it that rhubarb grown in the United States does not have the same medicinal value as “true rhubarb” or Chinese rhubarb.

There are several different varieties of rhubarb grown all over the world and used in a variety of cooking preparations. One characteristic consistent with all rhubarb is the toxicity of the leaves and roots. The rhubarb leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid, a toxic and potentially deadly poison. Only the stems are edible, although the first crops were grown for the round pouch of unopened flowers, which was cooked as a delicacy (in northern Asia it is still raised for this purpose).

Nutritionally, it is low in calories and very acidic (pH 3.1). The acid is offset by the addition of sugar, which also increases the calorie count. Rhubarb is 95 percent water and has potassium and a modest amount of vitamin C. Although rhubarb can be tough and stringy, it does not contain a great deal of fiber, only 2 grams per cup.

Unfortunately the high calcium content it supplies is bound by oxalic acid and so it is not easily absorbed by the body. Don’t count on rhubarb as a source of dietary calcium.

Preparation and Serving

Rhubarb requires the addition of sugar to combat its extreme tartness. The early pinkstems seem to produce the best flavor for cooking. Rhubarb, or “the pie plant,” is often considered a fruit, but it is actually a vegetable (leaf stem). It is prized for its mouth-puckering tartness which adds zest to pies, tarts, cold soups, jam, and a host of other desserts.

Many other flavors are flattered by the sourness of rhubarb. In the U.S., it is most often teamed up with strawberries and baked into pies and tarts. A typical English A typical English preparation would use ginger, while the French may puree it into a sauce and serve it with fish.

Home Preservation

To freeze: Chop into 1/2-inch pieces, spread them on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Once frozen, slide the rhubarb into heavy-duty plastic freezer bags. Seal tightly and put back into the freezer. Packed this way, rhubarb will keep for up to six months, and can be measured from the freezer bag.

When cooking fresh rhubarb, use a vegetable peeler to remove any brown or scaly spots. Peeling the entire stalk is unnecessary, simply trim the ends and wash and dry the stalks.

Always use a non-reactive pan for cooking this high acid plant. Use anodized aluminum, stainless steel, Teflon coated aluminum or enamel-coated cast iron cookware.

Rhubarb cooked in reactive metal pots (aluminum, iron, and copper) will turn an unappetizing brown color. Metal ions flaking off the pan will interact with acids in the fruit to form brown compounds that darken both the pan and the rhubarb.



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