Here at Green Gate Family Farm, we are big fans of rhubarb (crazy name!)! It is one of our first crops to be ready for harvest in the spring, and is one of the first “green” signs of Life we see, telling us it is time to really get moving. Currently, we have 4 “beds” (about 150 feet) of very young rhubarb (most of which is about 3 years old), and our farm plan includes a couple more years of establishing new rhubarb beds. Rhubarb is a perennial and emerges each spring from an underground root-like structure called a “crown”. The crown hangs out dormant all winter and then starts sending out its large, wrinkled leaves in the spring. The part to the rhubarb that is eaten is the stem of the leaf (which is actually called a “petiole” when attached to the leaf, and is usually referred to as a “stalk”). We cut the stem (petiole) away from the plant just next to the crown, and the remove the leaf (which is poisonous if eaten). Older stalks are bigger and become much more fibrous as they age.
There are many varieties of rhubarb, many of them preferring a cool climate. The variety we grow on the farm does well in our Mizzurah climate, but many people are thrown off by the fact that it is a mostly green stalk, rather than red like the rhubarb sold in the store. The truth is they taste the same. (The red pigment is mostly cooked off and adds no taste content.) In fact, I would argue that our rhubarb tastes much better, because it is freshly picked for market on Friday, and we can pick the more tender stalks that you would never find in the store because of their shorter shelf-life and longer transportation times.
Speaking of tasty, how does one cook rhubarb? Well there are many ways, most of them sweet preparations. I always ask the customers what they plan to do with the rhubarb when they buy it and have received some interesting answers. There are some of the things our customers do with it: Rhubarb salsa, used for making a cocktail, pickled, chutney to have with pork, spicy compote, cake, jam, and of course, pie. Here is a great place to go for 16 different recipes for preparing Rhubarb: http://www.saveur.com/article/-/Rhubarb-Recipe.
You can also check out Kanasas City’s own Tyler Fox who feathered rhubarb in his May 17th column “Chow Town” http://www.kansascity.com/2013/05/17/4240298/rhubarb-is-a-riddle-begging-to.html.
My favorite way to prepare it is also the easiest. I trim the ends, cut it up (like celery), put it in a stewing pot with a small amount of water and a bit of sugar, and cook it down for 10 minutes. While it is cooking, I make the French toast or Pancakes. We have the stewed rhubarb over these with some real Maple syrup. . . it is our favorite way to spend Sunday morning. And if Ken is lucky, we have some bacon with it as well.
Rhubarb in our central garden, growing happily and ready for a harvest.
This is our rhubarb on display at the Brookside Farmers’ Market.