Time For Spring Tonic

The rhubarb is ready. Rhubarb is classified as a vegetable, but it is most often eaten like a fruit. My favorite way to eat it is in a sauce. I have discovered through the years that rhubarb combines well with almost any kind of fruit. It is the tart flavor that keeps the fruit from being cloyingly sweet.

This week my daughter and grandson delivered a bag of rhubarb to my door. I cut up the rhubarb and added a small amount of water. I cooked the rhubarb until it was soft. This time I added a couple ladles of sweetened strawberries after it was cooked. It was delicious. My grandson enjoyed some of it the next day when he arrived after school.

A couple years ago my son got some plants from a friend who was cleaning out a bed. He had more than he needed so he gave me a couple plants. Wonder of wonders, my plants are growing better than his. Although they are growing, they do not produce as much as I like. I like to put packages in the freezer.

A friend has a new bed of rhubarb and asked about using it. I told her that when the stalks were about a foot tall it was ready. That got me to thinking. I have used rhubarb for years but I never really read about it. I consulted a Penn State source to see what I could find.

I have been doing it all wrong. It says to pull the stalks. Well so much for that. I use the rhubarb the way the people who owned the farm before me used it. They had a bed of about a dozen plants that has always been prolific. They told me to cut the stalks off near the ground, then cut the leaves off and put the leaves under the plant to decompose. That system I know works very well. We have taken a lot of rhubarb from that bed during the last 40 years.

Penn State says that rhubarb is at its peak during May and June. The life of it can be extended through July and August if there is enough moisture so that the leaves do not wilt and the stalks do not get full of insect stings.

I tried canning rhubarb once, but I prefer to simply cut it up and put it into the freezer. The National Center for Home Food Preservation says to heat rhubarb in boiling water for one minute, and then plunge it into cold water. This method helps preserve its color and flavor. I omit this step and just cut the stalks and place them in a freezer bag in my freezer. My method is easier and works very well.

One year I made some rhubarb conserve that was very tasty. It had raisins in it as well. It was very good in cookies as well as on toast or English muffins. I gave some jars away, but I still have one or two left.

For those of you who like the recipes, I include it here.

Combine all ingredients except rhubarb. Cook uncovered for five minutes. Stir in rhubarb and simmer about 15 minutes. It may take longer to thicken. Chill. This recipe makes a couple pints. It may be used to baste chicken and pork, too.

This column is for all of you country/city folks who have a lot of rhubarb that is ready to be used. I came upon a new recipe this year that sounds interesting. I will reserve judgment on it until after I have tried it. The recipe is titled Rhubarb Pineapple Sauce. It is thickened with tapioca.

I am always on the lookout for rhubarb recipes. I try to add to my recipe collection annually. I have even had students share recipes with me. The one I use for rhubarb crisp came from just one of those students.

Enjoy spring’s tonic. If you have never tried cooking with rhubarb, please give it a try. It is really delicious. The sauce can also be used to flavor meats such as pork and chicken. It helps retain the moisture.

If you make the rhubarb into a jelly it also blends well with meatballs in a crock-pot.

My grandmother used to make rhubarb pie when I was young. She picked some stalks from Grandma De Rider’s large bed. Great grandma grew it right along with her tulips – some of them came from Holland. I did not care much for the pie grandma made, but I have found a variation that I really like. The recipe I use takes eggs. I make a lattice crust because the rhubarb/egg combination creates a beautifully browned topping. If you look for a recipe for rhubarb cream pie in almost any cookbook it will turn out like this. The eggs mellow the tart rhubarb.

Maybe I can make some of the rhubarb buns again this season. The sauce for these turns a beautiful shade of pink. These are the buns I wrote about one season that my faithful companion polished off while I was saying good-by to the children. This recipe is in my cookbook. It is a little fussy to make, but they are oh so good.

They say rhubarb is good for you. If that is true I ought to be quite healthy because I consume quite a bit of it in season as well as during the winter months.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.