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WalkerSpeak: Rhubarb—Distinctive, Delicious and Ancient

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Look fast!  Rhubarb season is here and you might want to check out the markets for California imports, says Javier Morado, produce manager at Central Market.

“We get the imported rhubarb from Holland, later on, with the tomatoes. But, for U.S. produces it’s getting to the main part of the season,” says Morado.

While its very name, “rhubarb” sounds kind of funny, especially if you say it out loud quickly a few times, this is an ancient and quite distinguished vegetable.

Not to mention the fact that it makes awesome pies, cobblers and bread.

Native to China, rhubarb dates back to 2700 B.C. The technical name of the genus (Rheum) is said to be derived from Rha, the ancient name of the Volga River, on whose banks the plants grow. This is according to a quite comprehensive website, The Rhubarb Compendium.

Really, these few facts alone should make the word “rhubarb” far less funny-sounding than, say,  “arugula.”

A brief discussion of this plant (and botanically it is a vegetable) came up as a group of us had dinner downtown awhile back. As we lingered over an early evening meal of fries with cumin aioli, an arugula (ha-ha) salad and a burger or two, someone asked the waiter for a rhubarb margarita. “We don’t have that,” he responded, seriously.

Rhubarb used to grow as a landscaping plant along the driveway to our house in Northern Montana many years ago. The low-lying plant, with broad, deep-green leaves was a perennial, and made an eye-catching driveway border. More appealing to us, though, was the fact that it tasted good.  My sister and I would break a stalk or two off the plants (the stalks are called “petioles”), wash them (I hope) and then dip them into bowls of sugar and crunch away.

My mom would make rhubarb pie on occasion, and I should mention that she never put strawberries in it. Strawberries are a beautiful food, but as far as I’m concerned they have no place in rhubarb pie. Let them get their own pie. My aunt made beautiful rhubarb pies, with lard in the crust and her pie had no equal.

Another bit of trivia: The word “rhubarb” has another meaning as a term for heated argument. As in, “The boys had a frightful rhubarb over who would pay the bar bill.”

It can be grown in Texas as an annual, but not without some challenges, according to Texas AgriLife Extension.

And, a final note: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous; don’t eat them. But, do make rhubarb pie with the crunchy stalks. Rhubarb is not only tasty, it is rich in fiber and vitamin C.

 

Rhubarb Pie
Rhubarb Bread
Lavender Apple Rhubarb Crisp

 

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4 Responses to “WalkerSpeak: Rhubarb—Distinctive, Delicious and Ancient”

  1. Judy Smith says:

    Do you have any advice for using Splenda in place of sugar in rhubarb dessert recipes? I’ve had pretty good luck just cooking up the rhubarb with Splenda into a sauce, but have had less luck in using the sugar sub in cakes and sweet breads. I love desserts, but am trying to keep the sugar out

    Thanks.

    • Hi Judy! The one-to-one ratio of using Splenda to granulated sugar should work fine in a pie, as it did with the sauce. When the sugar in a recipe is part of the structure, such as in pound cake, or pecan pie, then the Splenda people recommend substituting only about a quarter of the amount of sugar with Splenda. So, you use a mixture. Here’s a link to some Splenda tips you might find useful. http://www.splenda.com/cooking-baking/granulated. I happen to know you are a “splendid” baker, so if you experiment around a bit you’ll probably find a successful way to get the calories down and get a great result. cheers, BW

  2. lemurleaf says:

    I heartily concur that rhubarb pie should not be adulterated with other substances. It is one of my favorite pies, if not THE favorite pie (I’m pretty fond of cherry, too). I like to put a bit of orange juice and peel into the pie, along with some cinnamon.

  3. Judy Smith says:

    Thanks Bonnie. I’ll check out the website you suggested and do some experimenting. Blessings!

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