Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a plant that grows well in temperate climates with cold winters. It begins to grow in the early spring and continues throughout the summer. The stalks can be harvested all season long but are at their best as soon as they begin growing.

Like its relative sorrel, rhubarb has a very tart flavor that is usually softened by pairing it with other fruits or cooking it with honey or sugar. In the US we most often use it in pies and jams. Rhubarb can also be used in many savory dishes its tartness compliments and brightens many dishes.

The stalks resemble ribs of celery and can range in color from dark green tinged with red to completely red. This coloration should not be taken as an indication of ripeness, it merely reflects the variety of rhubarb. Check your local farmer’s market to find out when to expect the first crop. When purchasing rhubarb, look for crisp stalks that are brightly colored.  Stalks that have split or look dry, fibrous or stringy are too mature. These more mature stalks are more fibrous and less pleasant to eat.

Beware of the leaves! They are toxic and can cause symptoms which range from mild and include vomiting to extreme poisoning causing death. Do not be afraid to handle rhubarb if it has its leaves, touching them won’t hurt you. Just cut them off the stalks and throw them away.

Store rhubarb in your refrigerator, wrapped in plastic so that it doesn’t dry out. If you find rhubarb on sale you can purchase a lot and freeze it. Unlike other vegetables, rhubarb can be frozen raw – without first being blanched. Just clean the stems, and cut them into small pieces. Place in zip lock bags and freeze. The usual concern with freezing foods is that as they freeze the water in the cells expands and breaks the cell walls. When the food is thawed, it can have an unpleasant, mushy texture. Since rhubarb is almost always cooked into a soft compote, texture isn’t an issue.