It’s rhubarb time! Not too familiar with this veggie that’s used like a fruit? Here’s why I grow FIVE rhubarb plants in our tiny urban lot and why you may want to get to know this cool vegetable.
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Rhubarb was not really on my radar until I attended a workshop on dehydrating, where Mary T. Bell, author of several books on the subject, passed around samples of a fruit leather she called “rhubarb lace,” a fruit leather made from rhubarb.
Rhubarb leather is the reason I grow rhubarb (use #1, without a doubt). It’s absolutely delicious and takes the place of candy as a special sweet treat for my kiddos and me. And it’s technically a vegetable! I’ve simplified Bell’s recipe a little and reduced the amount of added sugar.
(Get the recipe for homemade fruit leather from rhubarb here.)
Since I now have such an abundance of rhubarb, I’ve tried it other ways as well. It’s a great replacement for or addition to berries in healthy quick-breads or muffins (uses #2 and 3, recipes are pretty much interchangeable), and makes delicious crisps perfect for early summer potlucks (use#4, recipe below). If you have a sour tooth, it’s lovely diced fresh with just a light sprinkling of sugar (use #5).
The sauce used in the leather recipe can also be eaten like apple sauce or as an ice cream topping (uses #6 and 7). Some folks even make homemade barbecue sauces (#8) and drinks (#9), both alcolohic and otherwise, with rhubarb. Check out this amazing Honey Rhubarb Water Kefir Soda from Raising Generation Nourished!
1 cup of fresh rhubarb (about 2 medium stalks) has only 25 calories and is a good source of potassium, which many of us are deficient in. It also has an array of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols.
Because they’re ripe around the same time, rhubarb and strawberries are often paired, so you can also make strawberry-rhubarb sauces, breads, or crisps. I prefer to devour my strawberries plain, so they don’t make it into our baked goods, and the rhubarb’s great on its own.
Use #10: Low-maintenance, edible accent plant
You can buy rhubarb at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, but it’s so easy to grow, I can’t imagine paying for it. It’s a readily divided perennial, so you might find a friend with one they’ll share with you so you don’t even need to buy the plant. Read more on how to get plants free in this post. (If you don’t want to grow it yourself, one of your neighbors likely has enough rhubarb to spare for a crisp.)
Here is a great guide to growing and harvesting rhubarb from An Oregon Cottage. I’ve been told if you keep picking it all summer, it won’t get tough. Test out what you’ve got if you’re over a month into summer weather and your plant hasn’t been picked consistently.
Want to try some luscious rhubarb treats? Here are just a few ideas and recipes to get you started.
Easy Rhubarb Crisp
This crisp is a very easy dessert that travels well to all the potlucks we tend to have in early summer.
6 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (12-15 medium stalks)
scant 1/4 cup white sugar or sweetener of choice
1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice (optional)
3/4 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
4 tbl butter
1/2 cup flour (I like to use ivory wheat, a whole-grain flour that’s not as dense as regular whole wheat; if you’re gluten free you can try other flours as well)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup rolled oats (I use thick rolled oats)
1/2 cup walnuts (can be omitted for nut allergies)
- Toss rhubarb with white sugar and juice if using and spread in a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Put butter, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse 20-30 seconds, till it forms little balls. Add oats and nuts if using and pulse a few times to combine.
- Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden, about 45 minutes.
Other great ways to use rhubarb
Need some more ideas? Here are a gazillion from some pinners who also love rhubarb! (I ran a search including the word “healthy” but I don’t think everything there qualifies. Try substituting whole grain flours where you can, use butter or coconut oil instead of margarine or canola, and be as sparing as you can with the sugar. You can also try subbing in some apple sauce so you can cut down on sugar.)
What are you going to use rhubarb in this season?
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Photo credits: Jeremy Keith, stu_spivack, Whitney, Katherine, Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr