In Season: Rhubarb

by in In Season, May 6, 2009


My mother-in-law just told me she’s growing rhubarb in her garden this year, and now it’s my job to come up with things to do with it. Rhubarb is a quintessential spring goodie with an unmistakably tart bite.

When, Where & What?
Rhubarb hits peak season for a short time in early spring. Though I’ve never tried, I hear if you grow it in your home garden, it’s a little hard to control. I’ll see how my mother-in-law makes out and get back to you.

Rhubarb is easy to spot at the market thanks to its dark green leaves and shiny crimson stalks. The leaves are high in toxic oxalic acid, so when it comes to eating it, stick to the stalks. Known for a distinctively tart flavor, rhubarb is good raw, but is more often cooked to mellow the flavor out.

Nutrition Facts
One cup of rhubarb has about 25 calories and is full of vitamin C and vitamin E (it actually has 45% of your daily vitamin E needs). The veggie also contains some calcium, but since its oxalic acid interferes with calcium absorption, the body can’t take advantage of it. Yes, it’s yummy, but you also want to limit your enjoyment. It contains anthraquinones, which may have a laxative effect.

What To Do With Rhubarb
Since rhubarb is so tart, most folks usually prepare it with sugar or some other sweetener to give it balance. Classic dishes are sugary, strawberry and rhubarb tarts, pies and other pastries (strawberry-rhubarb crisp is my personal favorite). You can also stew rhubarb or preserve it in jams, jellies or spicy chutneys. Try spreading rhubarb chutney on toasted bread and top with sliced turkey and sharp cheddar cheese — amazing! You can also boil rhubarb with sugar to make a syrup for drinks or sundaes.

Shopping Tip: Choose rhubarb stalks that are firm and bright red. Store them in the refrigerator trimmed and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for up to 2 weeks.

[Photo: Katia Grimmer-Laversanne / SXC]

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