Rhubarb is probably most known for being in pies along with different fruits and berries like strawberries, but it’s actually a vegetable. The rhubarb tops or greens are not edible, but the stalks are used in many dishes other than pie. It’s also fantastic combined with strawberries or raspberries in jam or a sauce for mixing into plain yogurt or serving over ice cream, but it’s also cooked into savory sauces. Fresh, young stalks are sweeter and can be eaten raw. Usually they’re dipped in sugar, as they’re still very tart, even though the younger stalks are sweeter than the older stalks.
Rhubarb is fairly acidic so be sure to use non-reactive cookware when cooking it, such as stainless steel. The taste can be very sour, which is why it’s usually always cooked with other fruit (to help reduce the amount of sugar needed) and sugar or honey. When sweetened just enough, rhubarb has a delicious fruity flavor. But be careful not to add too much sugar or honey or the flavor will be masked by the sweetness.
Rhubarb is a good source of potassium and vitamins C, A, K and quite a few different B vitamins. The stalks and especially the root of the plant has long been used for its medicinal properties, especially in Chinese medicine.
Rhubarb grows very easily and once established will come back each year for many years. The stalks can either be green or red, without a difference in flavor or tartness (although different varieties grow stalks that are more red, and more tart than others). When harvesting rhubarb, a few inches of the leaves should be left on the stalks if storing the rhubarb, as this will keep the stalk firm and crisp by keeping the moisture in. The stalks can be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge for a couple weeks and the leaves removed before using.
It’s very easy to freeze and store rhubarb for when fresh is not available. Simply wash the rhubarb and cut into the size of pieces that you want. You can blanch the rhubarb in boiling water for 90 seconds before draining and freezing, but I usually just wash the rhubarb and drain it well before packing in a Ziploc bag. This rhubarb can then be mixed into baked goods while still frozen or thawed, drained and then added to recipes, or otherwise thawed and cooked as desired.
Rhubarb will be available all summer at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market, which runs from 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays at Millennium Park.
Whole Wheat Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
2 tbsp butter
3/4 C + 2 tbsp brown sugar divided
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 – 3 1/2 C rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 C + 2 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour from soft wheat
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 C flavorless oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 C milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8×8 baking dish by spraying with non stick spray, or lightly buttering.
Melt the 2 tbsp of butter and mix with 1/4 C brown sugar and the ginger, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Spread in the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl toss the chopped rhubarb with 2 tbsp flour. Pour over the butter and sugar mixture in the pan and then sprinkle the fruit with an extra 2 tbsp of brown sugar. Shake the baking dish to help the fruit settle into the bottom as much as possible.
For the cake, in a small bowl combine the oil, vanilla, brown sugar, eggs and milk. Mix well and set aside. In a larger bowl combine the 1 1/2 C flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well until everything is completely combined. Pour over the fruit in the baking dish and place in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, until completely cooked through and a dark golden brown on top. Cool for at least half an hour before slicing and serving warm with ice cream.