As I’ve mentioned previously, this past winter was more bitter and harsh than usual. As the weather starts to warm up, we’re noticing what hasn’t made it, and what, like my rhubarb, has thrived and survived through the winter.
Rhubarb is an unusual vegetable. Yes, it’s a vegetable, one that we tend to treat like a fruit. You either love it or hate it and some people have fond memories of it growing in their grandparents or parents garden. Rhubarb is a seasonal vegetable and only available in our climate in the spring. The leaves are highly toxic and should not be eaten, while the bitter stalks are edible but have laxative and cathartic properties. For this reason, rhubarb is often “recommended” as a diet aid. I’ve often read that many of spring’s early fruits and veggies, like greens and rhubarb, are bitter and help cleanse the body of the heavy foods we tend to eat in the winter.
In our region, rhubarb dies back annually, to the roots. But come spring, it’s a lush, prehistoric looking plant. It’s one of my favorite edible landscape plants. If you don’t have a problem with the space being empty in the winter, it’s worthy a place in most gardens as it sprouts and greens up quickly, takes up a lot of summer space, crowds out weeds underneath and around it (because of the dense leaves), and is relatively pest free. We have about 10 plants at various locations in our yard. The majority of them are on the outside of our back fence, as seen in the photo.
So what does one do with rhubarb? We make rhubarb crunch (my mom’s recipe) or pie, freeze it for crunch/pies later in the year, make wine, BBQ sauce, or pie filling. I’ve heard you can dehydrate it too, but i’m not sure what you’d do with dried rhubarb.
I find that the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is full of useful recipes, some of which are more unusual or use unique combinations. This is a great attribute in a recipe book for someone like me, because I like to use what I’ve got and I’ve got rhubarb! One of the more unusual sauce recipes from this book is titled “Victorian Barbecue Sauce”. It’s base is not tomatoes, but rather rhubarb!
So, guess what I’ll be doing this weekend. Yep, canning rhubarb. I usually make at least 1 double batch of Victorian Barbeque Sauce each year. The original recipe makes 4 pint jars, but I often put it up in 1/2 pints. With just the 2 of us, a full pint of sauce would go to waste once opened, but 1/2 pint is just enough for a batch of wings, a large chicken, or some simple grilling. If you don’t own the Ball canning book you can find the Victorian Barbecue Sauce recipe at sbcanning.com.
Last year I made rhubarb pie filling for the first time. I’ll most likely do that again this year, as it made an easy and quick desert option during the winter. I found I could simply grease a casserole dish, dump in the filling and top with an oatmeal crumble type topping and bake until bubbly. Homemade dessert doesn’t get much easier than that!
I’ve heard a rumor that for some strange reason, stage actors repeat “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb” on stage to mimic background conversations in scenes. I’d like to know why they picked the word rhubarb. So until my next post, when you’re in a crowded room think rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.
We still have some rhubarb left, I’ll be freezing it for use later in the year. But I’ve made 2 different BBQ sauces, salsa, marmalade, jam, chutney and relish, all rhubarb based. Also, 1 plant, that I thought had died sprouted a wee little stalk this year! Here’s to hoping we get yet another rhubarb plant next year!