Rhubarb


History / Geography
Early history indicates that rhubarb may have possibly come from Asia, specifically Russia. Rhubarb was used as a medicinal tonic until the 1800’s. In Europe, Poland has used rhubarb in savory dishes, as well as Afghanistan. But Britain was first in using rhubarb in sweet dishes.

Science
Rheum Rhabarbarum
Part of the Buckwheat Family.

Varieties
There are two main varieties of rhubarb:
Hothouse: The stalks tend to be pink to a light red color, and the leaves are a yellowish-green.
Field Grown: The stalks are bright red, and the leaves are a deep green.

Season
Late winter to early summer.

How to Select
Choose crisp stalks with bright colors. Usually the leaves have been removed beforehand, though if they are present they should not be limp, as limp leaves would be the first indicator of poor freshness. The tartness within rhubarb becomes stronger with darker colored stalks and leaves.

Storage
Rhubarb is highly perishable. Store in the refirgerator in a plastic bag for 3 days.

Try freezing cooked rhubarb in ice cube trays. Fresh rhubarb can be cut into one-inch pieces and frozen on a flat cookie sheet, and bagged for storage.

Nutritional Qualities
Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

Trivia
Rhubarb is VERY tart, therefore it is usually accompanied with berries or a lot of sugar.

Rhubarb is, botanically, a vegetable, yet is treated culinarily like a fruit.

In World War I, soldiers were encouraged to eat rhubarb leaves as a vegetable source. Many people died from poisoning. It was believed that rhubarb’s high oxalic acid content was the poison. Other foods, such as spinach, also contain oxalic acid, and no one has had any poisonings from spinach. In any case, the leaves and roots are toxic to one’s system, despite no one knowing for sure why.

Do NOT cook rhubarb in an aluminum pan. There is a chemical reaction between the aluminum and the rhubarb where the rhubarb will turn gray and pick up a metallic flavor.

When wanting to maintain rhubarb’s bright red color, add a touch of lemon juice or vinegar to your recipe in order to prevent the component in rhubarb that will make the rhubarb turn blue when heated.

When cooking rhubarb, a lot of the juices will come out and the mixture will look soupy. When the mixture cools, the liquid tends to thicken up. Despite this fact, when making pies, make sure that some sort of thickener is used: 3 tbsp. (flour, cornstarch etc.) to ever 1.5 lbs. rhubarb.

Try substituting rhubarb in a berry recipe. Substitute up to half, but increase the sugar by one-third.

Wine Pairings
Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat

Flavor Affinities
Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries), sugar, honey, maple syrup, orange, duck, goose, oily fish and ginger.

Great in sauces, jams, jellies, fools, desserts, compotes and also in an Italian apertif called Rabarbaro.

Equivalencies
1 lb. fresh = 2 c. chopped and cooked

Preparation
For cooking: Wash. Trim off all leaves and roots, as they are toxic. Cut into one-inch pieces at an angle and bake, roast, stew, candy or juice. Rhubarb cooks very quickly. Leave the rhubarb with some crunch, if not, it will become a stringy mush. Also, older rhubarb can be a little too stringy, use a vegetable peeler to remove the string.
For eating raw: Rhubarb is not eaten raw.

My friend, Pat Churchill, a food writer from New Zealand, developed this recipe:

Rhubarb Sponge

4-6 stalks of rhubarb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Topping

50g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180degC.

Remove the bottom of the stalks and any leaves from the rhubarb. Cut the stalks into 2cm chunks. Place in a saucepan with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for about five minutes.

Meanwhile place the butter and golden syrup into a bowl and heat in the microwave until the butter melts. Whisk together then add the sugar and the egg and beat. Add the flour, baking powder and milk and beat again with a whisk. Add a little more milk if the mixture is too thick.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the topping has set and springs back when you press it with your finger.

Serve warm with lightly whipped cream or crème fraiche, or vanilla ice cream.

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One thought on “Rhubarb

  1. Rhubarb contains anthocyanins (red vegetable pigments) they are only red in the presence of acids — they turn blue-green in the presence of bases. (closely related pigments provide the indicator color in the litmus paper back in high school chemistry).

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