Living Loving Local at Verve this Month: Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a perennial plant that according to Canada’s Department of Agriculture is a vegetable not a fruit. It has been around for centuries and before it was ever considered for human consumption it was used for medicinal purposes as a laxative. It is believed to be partially responsible for the disappearance of Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and was one of the original fruits used for tarts and pies dating back to the 1700’s. It has so many culinary uses from savoury to sweet, jams to jellies as well as eaten fresh dipped in a bit of sugar.
Once exposed to warmer temperatures rhubarb grows very quickly and is one of the earliest harvested crops in the northern hemisphere.
Field: large, thick fleshy green stalks. This is what grows in your garden
- The sweetness depends on the variety and the maturity of the plant. Field rhubarb is typically harvested after 8-10 weeks of growing.
- The stalks are approx. 15” – 18” long with leaves that can span a couple of feet in width.
- Field rhubarb cannot be harvested until the plant has been growing undisturbed for 3 years and has been through several frost cycles.
Hot house or forced: Thin, pink tender stalks and small leaves. Often this is available in our grocery stores from January to September.
These varieties contain less oxalic acid making them sweeter than field crops.
- “Forcing” is the process of digging up field crops while they are dormant in late winter and replanting them in a darkened heated shed at 55 F. This tricks the plants into thinking it is spring.
- They are generally ready to harvest after 4-6 weeks.
- Once harvested the plant cannot be used for production anymore and is mulched and used as compost to spread on future crops.
Due to rhubarb’s inherent sourness it is generally cooked with a sweetener to balance the flavour. Try honey, sugar, agave or maple syrups.
As rhubarb cooks it releases a lot of moisture, so usually there is no need to add liquid when cooking. Rhubarb has a strong flavour and pairs well with other strong ingredients like vanilla, ginger, orange, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and star anise.
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Discard. Eat only the stalks.
Sprinkle rhubarb chunks with sugar, cover with foil and bake at 350F oven for about 15 minutes or until soft.
Sprinkle rhubarb chunks with sugar, add a splash of water and simmer gently for 8 minutes until soft. Cook a little longer for a puree or compote.
- Rhubarb leaves are toxic as they contain Oxalic Acid a poison that can lead to death when ingested excessively. The stalks or stems are completely harmless and delicious!
- When cooking with rhubarb always use a non-corrosive stainless steel pot. The acid is so strong if you use a copper or aluminum pot it will turn your rhubarb brown, cleaning your pot in the process!
- A rhubarb variety called the Irish Giant has stems 5 feet long and as thick as a man’s arm. Imagine the pie you could make with that!
This month our Verve properties throughout Canada will feature the following Rhubarb recipes: