Rhubarb Delights Tastebuds

As a child, I’d partially fill a cup of sugar and head outside to the rhubarb patch in our garden. I’d pull up a stalk of rhubarb, break off the leaves, seat myself at the picnic table and dip my tangy treat into the sugar.

Fresh cut rhubarb
Photo courtesy of Flickr/ Rhubarb by KS Buehler used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

I knew it wasn’t safe to eat the leaves. I may have rinsed the fresh rhubarb with our garden hose, but I probably didn’t do that. I didn’t teach about food safety back then. However, I now advise you to rinse all your produce with running water.

Sometimes people think they cannot use rhubarb beyond a certain date. Technically, you can use it throughout the summer. When my neighbor gave me some fairly large stalks of rhubarb, we just cut the pieces smaller and enjoyed a delicious dessert.

Selecting Rhubarb

Ideally, when selecting rhubarb, choose brightly colored stalks. Thicker stalks tend to be tough. Only remove about a third of the stalks at a time to allow the plants to remain strong. Do not use the rhubarb after a hard freeze because the stalks will be of poor quality and oxalic acid may have migrated from the leaves into the stalks.

If you don’t intend to use the rhubarb immediately, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it up to four days for best quality. Wash the stalks with plenty of running water before using them, and remove all leaves and roots.

Preparing and Preserving Rhubarb

Because rhubarb is so acidic, be sure to use only nonreactive cookware. Do not use aluminum, iron or copper cookware because the strong acid in rhubarb may react with the metals, leading to discoloration of the pans and the food. Even worse, undesirable, possibly unsafe metals may become part of your food. Use anodized aluminum, stainless steel or glass pans for cooking or baking rhubarb-containing foods.

Freeze extra rhubarb by arranging the cut-up pieces on a baking sheet and placing it in the freezer. As soon as the pieces are frozen solidly, slide them into freezer bags. Alternatively, pack them in plastic freezer containers in recipe-sized amounts. Label with the contents and date, and use within six months of freezing for best quality.

Recipe of the Week

Here’s a rhubarb recipe from the University of Illinois Extension Service. Try it on fresh fruit, ice cream, yogurt, pancakes, waffles or pound cake.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Topping

10 slim stalks of rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 c. hulled, quartered strawberries
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. orange juice
Zest of one orange, grated
Zest of one lemon, grated
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine all the ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Skim off the foam as it collects. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold or warm. Reheat if desired. It keeps for four days in the refrigerator.

Makes eight cups. Each half-cup serving has 71 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 19.5 grams of carbohydrate and 1.3 grams of fiber.