Rhubarb Is More Than The Pie Plant
The arrival of shiny crimson red rhubarb is yet another sign that spring has arrived. It is a hearty vegetable that thrives in cooler climates and originally came by way of China, Russia and Mongolia where it was first used as a medicinal herb to treat a variety of illnesses. Rhubarb made its debut in the United States in the late 18th century when Luther Burbank, a world-renowned horticulturist, developed a deep red variety that thrived in much of California’s climate. Rhubarb grows best in the northern regions of the United States. It can be found grown on a commercial level in Oregon, Washington and Michigan. Rhubarb from the Pacific Northwest is all field grown and the season runs from late March until the end of June. The Michigan season begins in April with hothouse grown rhubarb and later moves to field grown.
Rhubarb is very weather dependent and needs a summer temperature of 75° or below for maximum production. Once the temperatures reach 90° or above the plant will start to wilt. Rhubarb is a perennial herb grown from a crown, similar to asparagus, and will continue to produce up to 15 years.
Only eat the leaf stalks or petioles. This is one vegetable where you do not want to use the whole plant. The leaves can grow to be extremely large and due to their high levels of oxalic acid they are considered poisonous.
How to buy
Look for bright red stalks which have a sweet rich flavor. The size of the stalk is not an indicator of tenderness!
Storage and Cooking
Wrap loosely in plastic and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Do not keep for more than a few days or it will start to dry out. Rhubarb is very tart and acidic and needs honey or sugar to transform it into a delicious dessert or savory dish. It goes great with seafood, chicken or pork. Everyone has heard of strawberry rhubarb pie but how about a rhubarb shake topped with chopped pistachios? Share your favorite rhubarb recipes on our Facebook page.