Rhubarb: A spring-time delicacy with pucker power
Rhubarb is thriving in home gardens this time of year. When little else is available in the garden to eat, rhubarb gets us ready for even more Michigan grown foods.
Rhubarb is a springtime delicacy that is classified by botanists as a vegetable, but because it is so popular in desserts, it is recognized as a fruit by consumers. Rhubarb is traditionally made into sauce or pie, and that is how it got its nickname of pie plant.
Hot-house, or forced, rhubarb is a pink to rosy-red color all the way to the leaf. It will have a milder, more delicate flavor than field or home grown rhubarb. Use hothouse rhubarb only when it is fresh because it loses color rapidly when canned or frozen.
Fresh field or home grown rhubarb is available in May and June. It has a rosy to dark red color with medium to thick stalks. It is more tender than hot-house rhubarb. However, both provide a tasty source of calcium and potassium.
Cut off and compost, or discard, all rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which is harmful to eat. Medium to thick stalks are best to use.
When rhubarb is combined with strawberries, raspberries, apples and other fruits, the flavor only gets better. Rhubarb also makes a terrific sauce for chicken, venison, halibut and salmon. Adding diced rhubarb to muffins and biscuit recipes makes them sing with flavor without making the batter runny.
Stalks of rhubarb can be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for two to four weeks. Freeze home grown rhubarb early in the season when the color is best and the stalks are most tender. Freezing rhubarb is easy. Just rinse stalks well and cut into one or two inch pieces to fit your container or freezer bags. You can also make cooked rhubarb sauce; pack it into containers, leaving one-half inch head space, label and freeze.
Michigan State University Extension has MI Fresh, a website about Michigan’s bounty of fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals. Here you will find information on recommended varieties, storage, food safety and preserving techniques for many fruits and vegetables, including rhubarb.