Rhubarb Reformation


This is our third year to attempt to cultivate rhubarb, and our first year to have success. Behold, rhubarb harvested from our garden!

Rhubarb is a weird plant. There is actually some conflict over whether it’s a fruit or a vegetable. Traditionally, it’s a vegetable, but functionally, it’s used as a fruit. A court in New York in 1947 determined it to be a fruit for all intents and purposes, so you can call it a fruit if you want to. Or a vegetable, if you dare, since it really is one. Except not legally. It would make a good argument!

Rhubarb actually looks and feels a lot like celery. It has long, reddish-green crispy stalks, which are edible. The leaves are toxic. Don’t eat ’em! The stalks have a very strong tart taste. I’ve hated, loathed, and despised rhubarb most of my life, and I don’t even know why. I don’t remember ever consuming any rhubarb. My mother never put any rhubarb on our kitchen table that I can recall. In my childhood, West Virginia was the land of farms and gardens to me, and it was there that my non-suburbia grocery store tastes were challenged by, you know, real people with real food that they actually grew themselves. Some time way back in the dark recesses of my childhood–most likely on a trip to West Virginia–some poor farm mother (probably my Great-Aunt Ruby) must have fed me some rhubarb that wasn’t sweetened quite enough to pass the palate test of a child. And I would never eat rhubarb again. Until now. Now I’ve been desperately attempting to cultivate it for three years. Call it my renewed passion for all things old-fashioned, or call it my advanced adult tastes, but rhubarb is delicious and interesting. It’s known as “the pie plant” but you can use it just as you would many fruits–in not just pies but cobblers, cakes, muffins, breads, jams, jellies, syrups, wines, and more. For the non-rhubarbista, it can go down easier mixed with another fruit. It’s most popularly combined with strawberries, but you can combine it with anything. Rhubarb comes back year after year, and is one of the first things ready to harvest from the garden–and will keep producing till fall. Rhubarb doesn’t do well in hot, dry climates, and it needs at least two months of cold weather in the winter.

One of the handy things about rhubarb, especially if you’re harvesting a little at a time as you’re just getting your rhubarb patch going (like me), is that you can dry pack rhubarb to freeze. Just chop it up and stick it in a freezer bag. When you have stored up enough for your recipe, take it out. I love something that can be dry-packed. To use rhubarb in recipes, it’s usually chopped finely and cooked to soften–and unless you can take the tart, you’ll need a good dose of sugar to tone it down.

I’m collecting rhubarb right now, freezing batches as they’re ready from the garden, and planning all my rhubarb fun in the kitchen. I’m reformed about rhubarb. I used to hate it, but now I love it. What about you? Do you love it, or do you love to hate it? I’ve picked up a lot of rhubarb recipe talk lately on the internet–it seems to be another one of those vintage ideas that is on a comeback with celebrity chefs turning it into a trendy gourmet delicacy.

My Great-Aunt Ruby would be proud. And baffled.

Then she’d say, “Pshaw,” and head back to her garden because she knew it was a good thing all along.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on July 6, 2011  

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26 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 7-6

    Love it. Served stewed rhubarb as a desert as a child. Not overly sweet. But, it was desert and THAT was a big deal at my house.

  2. 7-6

    I too have rhubarb growing, and I’m waiting until year three to havest as ‘instructed’ (next year!)…I have childhood memories of picking a stick of rhubarb, stripping off the outer ‘cover’ and dipping it in sugar – mmmmmm munch, munch!

  3. 7-6

    I am embaressed to say I never ever had rhubarb..Shh dont tell.
    Granny Trace


  4. 7-6

    Like Rose H – I dipped mine in sugar and ate it raw. I also fed it to my horse that way – she loved it. She wouldn’t eat it unless it was dipped in sugar. I haven’t eaten it since I was in my late teens . . . I miss it!

  5. 7-6

    I love rhubarb! Strawberry rhubarb pies were a summertime staple growing up. I grew up in northern Indiana and my dad had huge rhubarb plants. I tried for years to grow it here in southern Indiana but did not have any success in our clay until I made raised beds and filled them with sand and manure. It worked. I have three beautiful plants now and we’ve had strawberry rhubarb pie and rhubarb marmalade already this year. I expect I’ll get another harvest this year, too.

  6. 7-6

    I never liked it until recently when I tried a friend’s rhubarb dessert bar.I have been hooked ever since.The previous owners of our farm loved it too – we have 22 clumps of it!I have given away so many rhubarb plants over the years but still can’t seem to reduce them.

  7. 7-6

    I’ve often wondered how it tastes….my Mum ate it growing up in England, but it’s too hot here in Louisiana to grow it. :cry:

  8. 7-6

    LOVE IT. I make a “Victoria Sauce” (mixed with raisins, onions,brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and a bit of salt), canned every year. Great as a side with venison.
    Also rhubarb/strawberry jam. I have several plants which have traveled all over the country with me. Any time we were overseas, I plopped them in oak barrels at my mother’s.”Pull” do not cut the stalks and they come back again and again.

  9. 7-6

    I’m in the same boat as Granny Trace; I’ve NEVER had rhubarb. Just never been presented with it! I would be very open to the experience, though. I’d love to get some mature plant-starts from someone. I wonder if anybody near me has some? Hmmm…..

  10. 7-6

    What’s the secret to growing it? We’ve been trying for years and the plants just die. :cry:

    Did you get the crowns locally?

  11. 7-6

    one of the farm wives at church just told me she had rhubarb coming out her ears, so i gladly offered to come and take some off her hands this week! earlier this year i canned the victoria sauce out of the BBB which is excellent! i also made a rhubarb upside down cake for my own birthday which was also quite tasty:)

  12. 7-6

    Suzanne, I have to tell you when I was a child in Virginia, we had Pie Plant aka Rhubarb grown in old #3 tubs on the edge of the garden. I don’t remember what Grandma did with :hissyfit: it except I remember eating it fresh out of the garden. We didn’t get sugar much so we didn’t mind the taste :lol: .
    Grandma always said not to let the cows in the garden as the rhubarb would kill them. When the cows did get in the garden they never ate the rhubarb. :cowsleep:
    I now have a friend who cleans the chicken house and throws the manure on the rhubarb when it is died back and has the second best crop I have ever seen. I say second best because I have an acquaintance that thins hers to the compost pile almost into the creek and it is the biggest I have ever seen. The stalks get to about 3″ around and up to 3′ long. I have so many friends that give it to me that I don’t worry about growing it anymore, but I do have some coming along :sun: .
    I met a woman in Alaska who had some and bless her heart it was like pencils. The season was so short that she couldn’t get much from it :turtle: .
    I can rhubarb and make strawberry rhubarb pies with it. My neighbor and I usually share a pie or two as no one here likes it but me :pinkbunny: .

  13. 7-6

    I LOVE rhubarb! I’m not a big fan of the strawberry rhubarb combo though. My favorite way to eat it is as a Apple Rhubarb pie, SOOOO yummy with ice cream!

  14. 7-6

    Mmmm, rhubarb pie is my favorite.

    Rhubarb sauce goes well with a roast, like roast pork, and it’s super easy to make. Basically, it’s just like apple sauce: you stew the cut up stalks with a little water and sweeten to taste.

    When I was a kid, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA wasn’t an amusement park yet. It was primarily a restaurant specializing in chicken dinners and boysenberry pies (with a recreated “ghost town” to attract customers). Mrs. Knott always served rhubarb sauce with her fried chicken dinners.

    I wish they sold frozen rhubarb in the supermarkets for those of us who can’t grow our own. I keep looking for it, hoping…

  15. 7-6

    I love rhubarb. We had a patch in a flowerbed. My mother kept a huge bowl of stewed rhubarb in the refrigerator during the rhubarb season. We ate it for dessert. Like Bonita, we didn’t usually get dessert, so the rhubarb was special. For a really special treat we’d have it over ice cream. I’m not sure what kind of rhubarb it was, but the plants we had were nearly impossible to kill. I can attest to that since my father tried very hard to kill them – he liked rhubarb but he hated having that patch right in the middle of his flowers!

  16. 7-6

    How I grow rhubarb. I totally ignore it until you get that big stem in the middle which goes up nd into seed. That, I cut off and toss. The rest of the time it is watered with the lawn (it is in the flowerbed, near one end). Once in awhile I throw some compost on it. I pull stalks down to not much left. More comes, etc. In the fall, I just ignore it until next spring. Might get 3-4 feet of snow on it. Won’t kill it. It does need a couple of cold months. It did not like Sacramento, but revived and was happy in Utah. Go figure.

  17. 7-6

    My DH absolutely loves rhubarb – I think because it was the first food he brought home to his mother when he was a kid in Michigan. Apparently it grew wild in Battle Creek. Now he grows it in our garden and I make it a point to have enough in the freezer to make a “just rhubarb” pie at Thanksgiving and/or his birthday which is 11/27. Love being able to just chop it up and freeze like Suzanne said. I did struggle for a while with rhubarb pies being too juicy and ruining the crust but then stumbled upon what I consider a perfect recipe online and have been happy making it ever since. I’ll have to post it…… We had rhubarb regularly growing up and now the kids both like it too. A pie doesn’t last very long around here!

  18. 7-6

    I miss rhubarb. It is impossible to grow in our area, but I remember sneaking into the garden as a child and pulling out a couple of stalks. we would suck them to a pulp. Tough to get sugar out of the house, but every now and again we did. My mother would make sauce and we would have it for breakfast with a dab of whipped cream. I miss rhubarb.

  19. 7-6

    I’ve tried growing rhubarb for a few years. Always loved it, never cooked with it, until this year. (Made the rhubarb cake here, yummy!)

    But my rhubarb has for years just limped along. I finally found this hint which seems to have helped. The hint is to snap off the flower stalk. I did that this spring when I had a flower stalk and all the others were these pathetic little pencil things. Now I have rhubarb out there!

    My neighbor has the biggest/best rhubarb I’ve ever seen. It’s right next to/under her compost heap. Apparently, they just love to be FED!


  20. 7-6

    This brings back such sweet memories of my Granmother Ruby making the best Rubarb cobblers while I was growing up! We grew it every year and it was such a treat!!! As usual Suzanne..Thanks for the memories!!! :D

  21. 7-6

    We used to eat rhubarb when we were kids – it grew everywhere, only we put salt on it instead of sugar. Try it, you’ll like it!! (Also use salt on grapefruit and green apples…) Haven’t had rhubarb for years – we moved to the ‘big city” and it is not a fruit (or vegetable!) that is readily available here. If you are able to find it, it just doesn’t taste the same as it used to.

  22. 7-7

    I love rhubarb pie and can get it year round at a cafeteria here called MCL. I didn’t like it as a kid but it was growing in the garden at a house we bought so I used it up.

  23. 7-7

    I grow a LOT of rhubarb! This year I had enough to make 5 gallons of…wine, of course! :-)

    I also let a few plants go to seed, so I will have red rhubarb seeds in my seed store this year!

  24. 7-7

    Also, I have read that it should not be cut after July, as the plant needs the leaves to make food for next year. Makes sense.

    I so need to feed mine now.

  25. 1-17

    I bought two crowns of rhubarb last year. One of them did send up that flower stalk and I did not know what to do about it. After the flower died there were seeds. I collected them the gal at OG said plant them & see what happens. I will but I will also get a couple more plants this year. Once a lady gave me a big bag of rhubarb since I promised to show her how to can string beans in a pressure canner. I made chutney and forgot all albout it. I never did ask her what you eat the chutney with. I guess I will get out a jar & taste it. So what is the victoria sauce?

  26. 5-27

    This is an old thread, but I am currently OBSESSED with it! I keep putting it into your homemade yellow cake – sometimes with cream to make a custard, and right now (in the oven) with a dash of custard powder. We shall see how this version comes out. Mouth is watering already.

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