Despite its Chinese origins, rhubarb never figured largely in my childhood culinary repertoire and its name was vaguely mentioned by my classmates who talked about their grandmother’s pie. I did see rhubarb stalks in the supermarket, but they were never part of my mother’s shopping lists. Their red color was intriguing enough, and I wondered about their taste, given how strawberries were often displayed along them. Only years later in Australia did I became acquainted with rhubarb, which grew plentifully in a friend’s vegetable garden. The mild climate meant that rhubarb stayed evergreen throughout winter and their stems made for a welcome change from the meager choice of seasonal fruits.
With its largess, rhubarb is a voracious plant that appreciates fertile, moist soil and cool summers (plants will become dormant in hot summers). Stems should not be harvested until the plant becomes established (cutting the stems in the plant’s youth deprives its ability to build up reserves).
Like quinces and cooking apples, rhubarb will never have the immediate gratification of a strawberry or peach. It needs cooking (along with generous lashings of sugar) to tame its astringency from oxalic acid, the same compound in spinach and Swiss chard. Shall you dare to eat the stems raw, try shaving slivers for salads and roasted meats. Poisonous, the leaves should never be consumed and should be discarded during preparation. Even the stems require cautionary cooking in heatproof glass, enamelled cast iron and stainless steel – aluminum reacts with oxalic acid, resulting in a metallic-tasting, if not dangerous dessert. Some recipes suggest cooking the stems on the stovetop, although I prefer to bake them, finding the flavor to be more nuanced and tastier. Regardless of your cooking method, you will find the stems delectable with cereal, yoghurt, or ice cream. I sometimes add blood oranges or strawberries if I have them in the refrigerator. ~E
1 bunch rhubarb (5 to 6 stems) cut into 1 to 1 1/2″ pieces (2.5 to 3 cm)
2/3 cup caster sugar (155 grams )
2 tablespoons of orange zest
2 to 3 tablespoons of water
1. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius)
2. In a large bowl, mix the rhubarb stems with sugar, water, and orange zest well.
3. Spread evenly on the tray and place into the oven (once set at 350 degrees F (175 degrees Celsius).
4. Bake until the stems still hold their shape and a knife cuts through the stems cleanly.
5. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with cereal, yoghurt, or ice cream.