Rhubarb: Fruit or vegetable?

Rhubarb is a vegetable, but it is often cooked, sweetened and combined with other fruits as a dessert.

Rhubarb is an ancient plant traced back to China in 2700 BC. It was used for medical purposes as a laxative, to reduce fever and cleanse the body. Rhubarb is a perennial plant that has stalks similar to celery. Rhubarb can be eaten raw, but because of its tart flavor, it is more often cooked and sweetened with sugar. It is called the “pie plant” because one of its most popular uses is as pie filling. The leaves of rhubarb should never be eaten because the leaves and roots contain a toxic poison called oxalic acid.

Harvesting rhubarb generally begins in April and May and is available through early summer. The deeper the red color of the stalks, the more flavorful. The larger stalks are not as tender and stringy as the medium-sized stalks.

Rhubarb is low in calories and composed of 95 percent water. It does contain potassium and a small amount of vitamin C and fiber, two grams per cup. Rhubarb can be used to make jellies, jams, cakes, muffins and combined with other fruits in baked sauces and beverages.

When cooking fresh rhubarb, remove any brown or scaly spots, trim ends and wash thoroughly. When cooking rhubarb do not use aluminum, iron or copper pans. The high acidity will react with the metal causing the rhubarb to turn a brownish color and also discoloring the pan.

Before storing rhubarb, remove the leaves from the stalks. The stalks can be kept in the refrigerator, unwashed and wrapped tightly in plastic for up to three weeks.

Rhubarb strawberry topping is excellent as a topping for ice-cream, pancakes, waffles and pound cake. It will stay fresh in refrigerator for up to four days.

Here is one recipe to start with. For additional recipes visit http://allrecipes.com/

In a saucepan, combine ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, skimming off foam as needed.

Remove from heat and allow cooling to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold or warm.