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Featuring: Rhubarb
Featured Rhubarb Recipes
About Rhubarb
Rhubarb, with its tart, celery-like edible stalks or petioles topped by large triangular-shaped leaves, is the prolific and long-lived perennial that graces our vegetable gardens and landscapes. In many U.S. regions, rhubarb's emergence is a familiar and welcome harbinger of spring.

Like fresh cranberries, raw rhubarb is astringent, extremely tart and inedible. To make rhubarb palatable, you must cook it, adding sugar or other sweeteners to balance the acidity and tartness.

Regardless of the variety, only the rhubarb stalks are edible. Never eat raw or cooked rhubarb leaves. The leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous. Eating just a small amount of leaves will make you sick. Eating a large amount may be fatal.

Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically, rhubarb is definitely a vegetable. In the United States, however, it has a mixed identity.

Rhubarb was considered a vegetable until, in 1947, a New York court reclassified it as a fruit because that was the way Americans cooked and ate it. The fruit designation also meant that rhubarb was subject to lower tariffs and duties, a plus for importers and exporters.

Whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, rhubarb continues to be an American favorite in pies, compotes, preserves, baked goods and sauces.

Rhubarb Facts
  • Not all rhubarb is red. Look for stalks in hues ranging from crimson to speckled pink-green to light green.
  • Rhubarb is often called the "pie plant" - a tribute to one of its most popular uses.
  • In baseball, rhubarb is slang for a heated altercation, often between players and umpires.
  • Rhubarb is a fat-free, cholesterol-free and low-sodium food. It's a good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.
  • One cup of raw rhubarb contains approximately 30 calories.

A Brief History of Rhubarb

Rhubarb (genus Rheum), is a relative of sorrel and belongs to the Polygonaceae or buckwheat family. Originating in Western China, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia and surrounding regions, modern rhubarb still grows best in cooler climates. The "rhu" in rhubarb comes from Rha, the ancient name of the Volga River region where rhubarb has grown for centuries.

For thousands of years, the Chinese have used dried rhubarb rhizomes and roots as medical purgatives. During the 1400s along the Silk Road, traders brought rhubarb to Europe where it was highly prized for its medicinal properties. Rhubarb was introduced to the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States in the late 1700s, most likely by the British.
How to Select Rhubarb

The freshest and best rhubarb comes straight from your garden. If that isn’t an option, look for rhubarb in your grocery store or farmer's market.

When buying fresh rhubarb:
  • Select stalks that are flat, crisp, firm and plump. They should feel heavy and have shiny, unblemished skin. Attached leaves, if any, should look fresh and unwilted.
  • If you have the choice, choose pulled over cut stalks. Cut stalks dry out faster.
  • Never buy stalks that are dry, limp, fibrous, blemished or rubbery.

In many regions of the United States, hothouse-grown rhubarb is available most of the year. Field-grown varieties, however, with their more concentrated tartness and deeper color, usually debut in March. Although field-grown rhubarb is available throughout the summer, its peak season is definitely spring, when the stalks are extra juicy and tender.

Rhubarb varies in color, from crimson to speckled pink-green to light green. While varieties differ in tartness levels and fibrousness, skin color does not dictate flavor nor does stalk thickness indicate tenderness. Many cooks favor red rhubarb, especially for eye-catching dishes like pies and jams.
How to Store Rhubarb: Refrigerator, Freezer or Pantry
Fresh rhubarb is ready to use as soon as you harvest or buy it. If you plan to cook it within a week, store the rhubarb in the refrigerator. Otherwise, freeze it or make and can your favorite compote or jam recipe.

In the Refrigerator
  • Trim the dry ends from each stalk. Remove and discard any leaves.
  • Rinse stalks and pat dry with a towel.
  • Wrap stalks in plastic wrap or put in a zip-lock plastic bag.
  • Place in crisper drawer or coldest part of refrigerator for up to one week.
  • To refresh rhubarb, stand stalks in a jar of cold water for about an hour.

In the Freezer
  • Trim and wash stalks. Pat dry with towel. Cut off any blemished or dry spots.
  • Slice or dice stalks to the size required by your recipe (usually half-inch to inch long pieces or cubes). Blanching is unnecessary and not recommended.
  • Put rhubarb in freezer bag or vacuum-seal bag in 2 to 6 cup portions (6 cups is usually enough for one pie).
  • Seal, label and date bag. Be sure to write the number of cups on the freezer bag label. Place bag in freezer.
  • Frozen raw rhubarb will keep for up to one year in a heavy duty freezer bag or up to 3 years in a vacuum sealed package.
  • To use, add frozen rhubarb directly to most recipes--no thawing required. When cooked, frozen rhubarb has a "mushy" texture that should not affect most recipes. If, however, your recipe has a chunkier texture, use fresh rhubarb instead of frozen.

In the Pantry (Canning)

Many rhubarb recipes are perfect for canning. Always follow safe canning practices and label and date each jar. Store jars in a cool, dry place.
How to Prepare Rhubarb

Here are three important things to remember when preparing rhubarb:
  • Only the rhubarb stalks are edible. Never eat raw or cooked rhubarb leaves--they contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous. Eating just a small amount of leaves will make you sick. Eating a large amount may be fatal.
  • One pound yields about 3 cups of chopped raw rhubarb or 2 cups of cooked rhubarb.
  • Rhubarb is a highly acidic food. Do not cook it in an aluminum pan.

Prepping fresh rhubarb for your recipe is easy:
  • First, remove and discard any leaves.
  • Then, trim the ends, cut off any brown or dry spots, rinse and pat dry with a towel. Do not peel rhubarb before using. The skin will give your dish extra color and flavor.
  • Finally, slice or dice raw rhubarb as you would celery.
Rhubarb Cooking Tips

Rhubarb is usually stewed or added to baked goods. It is almost never eaten raw. Here are some suggestions for successful cooking with rhubarb:
  • When you cook rhubarb, the stalks eventually disintegrate into a watery puree or mush. Longer cooking thickens the juices so that when cooled, the rhubarb has the jellied consistency you want for jams, chutneys, sauces and compotes.
  • Cooking rhubarb with other fruit balances the sourness and acidity while adding much needed body, volume and texture. While strawberries and raspberries are popular rhubarb companions, also try apples, blackberries, cherries or pears.
  • Complementary flavorings include vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom.
  • For additional flavor, replace white granulated sugar with alternative sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup or honey.

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