|Under the shade of rhubarb leaves, few weeds dare to emerge.|
One secret to growing healthy rhubarb is to heavily fertilize the crowns. Generally speaking, chicken manure is too "hot" to use directly into the garden. But, not for rhubarb. This plant loves fresh chicken manure and... wait for it... it loves pee. That's right, if you have a garden, tell your husband and sons to "water" the rhubarb!!
The secret to cooking with rhubarb is to cut the stalks into pieces and then toss with sugar. Allow to sit for a few hours or overnight and the sugar will cause the rhubarb to release its fabulous juices. Otherwise if you add water, your stewed rhubarb will be too runny. If you don't add liquid and try to cook it immediately after dicing, the fruit will burn.
Technically rhubarb is considered a vegetable, but it is almost always sweetened and can be eaten with strawberries or made into jam. My friend makes great "blue-barb" jam with a mix of rhubarb and blueberries. Rhubarb also makes delicious pale pink wine.
When harvesting stalks of rhubarb, do not cut them off the plant. Instead, pull them away at the base so that the whole stalk comes off, like a stem of celery. This way, the crown will continue to grow to replace the harvested stalks. Leave the lovely red skin on the stalk when you cook it for that beautiful pink color.
Healthy rhubarb sends up a flower in the spring, and to encourage the growth of the edible stalks, cut the flower off of the plant as soon as it starts to open.
|A budding rhubarb flower.|
Also of utmost importance is to NEVER EAT THE LEAVES, as they contain a toxic amount of oxalic acid and are poisonous to both people and animals. I use the big, thick leaves as mulch in the garden for my brassica plants (kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc) because the oxalic acid helps to discourage club root. The leaf cover also retains soil moisture and discourages the growth of weeds.
The best way to eat rhubarb?
|A perfect pastry waiting to be filled with fruity goodness.|
Raw rhubarb is crunchy and sour so just remember to stew the rhubarb before filling the pie shell and baking. My personal preference is a little on the sour side, so for about 5 cups of chopped rhubarb stalks I'll add a scant cup of sugar. Again, rhubarb's favorite companion in the kitchen is strawberries. Rhubarb and strawberry pie or crumble is the perfect spring treat, with a dollop of whipped cream.... heaven.