Rhubarb was legally classified as a fruit in the U.S. in 1947, even though botanically it’s a vegetable! Whatever it may be classified, it’s a wonderful ingredient for cooking, and here are two great recipes to prove it!
I always love seeing those beautiful crimson red stalks of Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) at the grocery store and farmer’s markets. Since you can find it all year-round. I’m always surprised by the number of people who have never prepared rhubarb, as well as the number of people who have never even tasted rhubarb!!
When buying Rhubarb choose fresh crisp stalks. These fresh raw stalks are crisp with a strong tart taste. Discard the leaves (they’re toxic), trim the ends and peel off any stringy covering before use.
Rhubarb requires sweetening to minimize the extreme tartness. Commonly the plant’s stalks are cooked and used in pies, tarts, puddings, breads, jam, jellies and refreshing beverages. It also makes a delicious sauce for ice cream.
One way is to cut up the stalks into one-inch pieces and stew them (boil in water). Just barely cover the stalks with water, add ½ to ¾ cup of sugar for every pound of rhubarb. You can add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to taste. The sliced stalks are cooked until soft. It is actually not necessary to add water, since rhubarb contains a lot of water naturally, so an alternative cooking method is to simmer slowly (without adding water) letting the rhubarb cook in its own juice.
At this stage, cooked with strawberries or apples as a sweetener, or with root ginger, rhubarb makes excellent jam.
To make a “sauce” of rhubarb, continue simmering 45 minutes to one hour at medium heat, until the sauce is mostly smooth and the remaining stalks can easily be pierced with a fork, which yield a smooth tart-sweet sauce with a flavor similar to sweet & sour sauce. This sauce is usually stored in the refrigerator and eaten cold, like applesauce.
The sauce, when stewed over medium heat only a short time (about 20 minutes) and with only a little water so that the rhubarb stalks stay mostly discrete, may be used as filling for pies, tarts, and crumbles. Sometimes stewed strawberries are mixed with the rhubarb to make Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.