One of my favorite spring foods is rhubarb. I love rhubarb pie, rhubarb bread, and rhubarb crisp (ala mode, of course). This “pie plant” is primarily used as a fruit, but botanically, it’s a vegetable. Eaten alone, it is extremely tart. The only other comparable plant food that is as tart as rhubarb is a cranberry. And like the cranberry, rhubarb needs a little sugar or honey to balance out its acid content.
Rhubarb is a plant well suited to Ohio weather. It likes a cool, damp climate. Rhubarb lovers believe that the highest quality rhubarb comes from our northern U.S. states and Canada. It is one of the first edible plants to appear in the spring garden.
Rhubarb is a perennial; it will come back year after year with little-to-no effort on your part. You should harvest the stalks when they are 12-18” long. The color of the stalks will range from green to dark red. When picking rhubarb, pull it, don’t cut it. Pull it away from the base (like celery) and give it a good tug. It will snap off at the bottom. Take only about 1/3 of the stalks at any one picking. More will keep growing to replace what you’ve pulled. Pick the largest stalks to use first. And never eat the leaves; they are poisonous!
Nutritionally, rhubarb is not a powerhouse. It is 95% water, and provides some calcium, potassium, and a little bit of vitamins A and C. However, a one-cup serving of rhubarb does contain two grams of fiber, and is only 26 calories b.s. (before sugaring). When combined with other fruits, you will pick up extra nutrients. Good pairings include strawberries, apples, raspberries, or blueberries.
If you don’t have a rhubarb plant in your yard, you can purchase some at the grocery store or farm market. Stalks should look flat, not curled or limp. Deep red stalks are sweeter than light pink ones. To store, wrap rhubarb in plastic wrap and place in the vegetable crisper for up to a week. Some people like to peel rhubarb before they chop it; I don’t bother. I just wash it and chop it. If you have extra that you want to save for winter treats, rhubarb is easy to freeze.
If you’ve never tried rhubarb bread before, the recipe below is a good one. Banana and zucchini bread will have to watch their backs with this spring-time winner!!
Rhubarb Streusel Bread
- 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon cold butter
In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar and oil. Add egg, mix well. Stir in milk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into wet ingredients until just moistened, do not over stir. Fold in the rhubarb. Pour into two greased 8-inch loaf pans.
For topping, combine sugar, cinnamon and butter until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
Written by: Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, email@example.com
Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, firstname.lastname@example.org