While reading old Classic Winnie the Pooh stories to my children, Rabbit was always discussing rhubarb in his garden and in his pies. My little gardeners didn’t know what it was, so I put it on the grocery list, and over the last few years rhubarb has woven itself into our kitchen for special occasions and summertime treats. It doesn’t seem very popular in my neck of the woods (the East Coast of Florida, USA), so it is sometimes hard to find organic rhubarb, even in season.
Through most of the world rhubarb is considered a vegetable, however in 1947 a New York court decided it would be considered a fruit in the United States. Tariffs on vegetables were higher than tariffs on fruits at the time. However, rhubarb is a vegetable as it is closely related to garden sorrel (a common perennial herb). My little gardeners sometimes mistake rhubarb for Swiss chard at the farmers markets, as they do have a similar appearance. However the leaves of rhubarb are toxic. Field-grown rhubarb is typically harvested April to June, but seems to be available in grocery stores throughout the year due to hothouses (heated greenhouses).
For culinary uses, the fresh raw stalks of the plant are used. My oldest likes to call it pink celery, as it does have a crisp similar to that of celery. Rhubarb stalks can vary in color from the commonly associated crimson red, to speckled light pink, and simply light green. The color differences result from anthocyanins (water-soluble pigments), and vary according to both the rhubarb variety and the production technique. The red rhubarb is most popular with consumers, but the light green stalks have the most robust flavor.
One of our favorite ways to use rhubarb is as a compote, which can be taken one step further for a delightful treat, Rhubarb Fool! I’m not sure where these recipes originated from, as I’ve been making them from memory. They are pretty simple. You can adjust measurements: 1 lb of rhubarb makes approx. 3 cups.
1 lb rhubarb, leaves removed, stalks cut into 1/2 inch pieces
¼ cup brown sugar, loosely packed
2 tbsp water
In a large saucepan combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and water, stirring to coat. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain juices if you like. We like to leave the juices if we’re not going to make Rhubarb fool with it and refrigerate it for a few hours before serving. This compote can be made ahead for up to 2 days.
My little gardeners love the smell of rhubarb when I am chopping it. And we all love serving the compote over ice cream, but you can take it a step further…
3 cups organic whipping cream
1 cup Rhubarb Compote
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold in rhubarb compote.
Yum! Anyone hungry yet? Besides drizzled over vanilla ice cream, you can also use rhubarb compote: layered in custard, with granola and yogurt, baked over oatmeal, and poured over pound cake! We have even added some leftover rhubarb compote to our smoothies!
Rhubarb is a great summertime treat, and it’s good for you too! Rhubarb is a source of potassium and vitamin C and is very high in dietary fiber, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and manganese.
The Wooden Bee
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