by Dave on June 5, 2009

As first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, May 14, 2009:

by Andy Meddick

Rhubarb is a vegetable with a unique taste that makes it a favorite in many pies and desserts.

Yes, he said, “Vegetable!” Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit, but rhubarb is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, and is therefore a member of the vegetable family.

It originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago. It was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities, it was not until the 18th century that rhubarb was grown for culinary purposes in Britain and America. Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.

Rhubarb is a vegetable, eaten as a fruit. Delicious chopped in pies, in cakes, jams, and jellies. Eat the stalks, never the leaves or roots.

Rhubarb is a perennial plant (the kind that grows from year to year). Rhubarb forms large fleshy rhizomes and large leaves with long, thick (and tasty) petioles (stalks). Only the stalks are eaten; not the root, and never the leaves. Rhubarb leaves contain too much of the toxic Oxalic Acid to be eaten. Rabbits and deer are smart; they leave rhubarb leaves well alone.

Rhubarb stalks are commonly found at market. They look like a crimson-pink celery stalk and are prized by gourmet cooks. This makes my Mother a gourmet cook. Something she long knew! Fresh rhubarb is available from early winter through early summer.

Rhubarb is a staple of kitchen gardens all across the British Isles where it makes its way onto the Sunday Afternoon Tea table as Rhubarb Crumble (a crumb cake served warm with custard), Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie, and also Compotes.

Rhubarb and Strawberries pair very well in dishes. The tart flavors of the rhubarb complement the sweetness of strawberries in a way that adds a depth of flavor not present when each is consumed alone.

My favorite way to use rhubarb is to replace the pineapple in a pineapple upside down cake with diced rhubarb and chopped strawberries. Guess what I’m having for Afternoon Tea this Sunday?

Rhubarb’s talents extend beyond pies and cakes. In fact, scientists have discovered that the oxalic acid in rhubarb stems (the same stuff that makes your lips pucker) can be used to scour cooking pots.

In 1995, two Yale scientists discovered that the oxalic acid, found in rhubarb, helped neutralize CFC’s. Rhubarb to the Ozone Layer rescue!

If aphids are a pest in your garden, rhubarb can help. In her book, “Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles,” author Ellen Sandbeck describes a unique use for rhubarb leaves – as an aphid spray. Here’s the recipe:
1) Chop 3 to 5 rhubarb leaves and add to a quart of water. 2) Boil for 30 minutes.
3) Strain and add a dash of liquid, non-detergent, soap.
4) Fill spray bottle with liquid and use it on aphids.

Note: Because rhubarb leaves are poisonous, don’t use this spray on edible plants.

Here’s a few recipes including rhubarb. Have fun with them, and finally give rhubarb the hug she deserves!


Rhubarb Spice Pancakes
Sugar Free Rhubarb Pie
Rhubarb Chutney

Andy Meddick is the owner of the Good4U Organic Market outside Lewes. He can be reached at goodforu@comcast.net.

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