Rhubarb: An Education (with Recipes!)

Cut Up RhubarbA show of hands, who else loves rhubarb? It is one of my favorite edible plants to grow (as I mentioned in our post Urban Gardening on Our Country Plot), not just because it’s delicious, but also because it’s so easy to maintain, can be harvested multiple times throughout the summer, and is packed full of vitamins and minerals.

Did you know that rhubarb is a vegetable? I didn’t, but if you think about it, it makes sense, as fruit for the most part develops from the ovary of a flowered plant. Rhubarb finds it’s origins in China, where it’s been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and over time, the plant’s popularity slowly spread throughout Asia and Europe. It was brought over to North America in the late 1700s.

How to Plant

Growing rhubarb is very straight-forward. It can be started from seed, but by far the easiest way is to plant a crown or budded piece. It is very resilient, but it does not particularly like disturbance, so plant it in a permanent spot in your yard. Pick a moist, well drained area in full sun (though it will tolerate semi-shade) and plant the crowns or buds approximately 1” below the soil level. Water well throughout the summer, as rhubarb needs sufficient moisture to thrive.

Harvesting

Resist the urge to harvest rhubarb in it’s first year (not an easy feat for me!), as it will allow the plant to become established. After the first year, harvest by twisting the stalk at the base of the plant. Don’t gather more than half the stalks at once (another difficult task for me) as over-harvesting will reduce the plant’s vitality. A word of caution: only the stems are edible. The leaves contain oxalic acid which is a toxin. Simply trim off the leaf and throw it in your composter (yes, the leaves can be composted, as oxalic acid is not readily absorbed by plant roots).

Recipes

What kind of person would I be if I did all this talk about how wonderful rhubarb is and not leave you with a couple of recipes? Below are two of our favorites. The first is a recipe that the Tétraults have had in their family for generations, a delectable cake smothered in heavy cream.

Official Tétrault Rhubarb Cake Recipe
  • Print Recipe2 cups flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups rhubarb mixed with 1 tbsp flour

Topping

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9” cake pan and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder. Add buttermilk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, and then on medium for 1 minute.

In a separate mixing bowl, prepare the topping by mixing the butter, cinnamon and brown sugar together. The mixture should become crumbly. Set aside.

Spread rhubarb mixture into the prepared pan. Next, pour the batter into the pan on top of the rhubarb mixture. Sprinkle mixture on top of the cake. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm in a bowl with a healthy dollop of heavy cream.

Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake Muffins

This is a fantastic muffin recipe, and when you add a little rhubarb, it makes it just perfect. Follow Sugar and Soul’s recipe below to the letter, but exchange the 1 ½ cups of strawberries for 1 cup of strawberries and 1 cup of rhubarb.

Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins

We hope you enjoy these desserts! Let us know what your favorite rhubarb recipes are in the comments below!


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