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Growing and cooking with old fashioned rhubarb

Rhubarb isn't something we cook with often but there are plenty of possibilities to make scrumptious deserts. Writer Brenda Hyde shares some ideas.

The good ole' days
My Grandma Maudie loved making rhubarb pie. I can remember those homely looking plants with the reddish green stalks that reminded me of rose colored celery. It seemed like they had been in the same garden spot forever. It's hard to image how someone discovered rhubarb's uses, especially since only the stalks are edible, but the leaves are poisonous!

It's an old fashioned favorite that grows in our Midwestern cities and in the country side. My husband recalls his Grandma Ida making sauces, pies and jam with the rhubarb that always grew behind their shed in somewhat sandy soil. As a child, he thought it was a weed, but loved her jam and pie. Plant your own If you would like to plant your own rhubarb, look for it at your local garden center. It does need two months or more of cold weather in zones where the ground freezes. You can start it from seed but the process is long and often the seeds do not produce a true type of rhubarb. If you can "borrow" three root divisions from a friend or family member that would be plenty for one family.

Choose a sunny, well drained spot that is out of the way. Rhubarb is very long-lived and you won't want to move it much, since it takes two years to really become established before harvesting. You can harvest the stalks that are at least one inch thick the second year, but you won't really have an abundance of stalks until the third year. However, after this you will have all the rhubarb you can pick during the spring months, which is the harvest time.

Plant your divisions in a hole you have prepared by digging your soil and mixing in compost or other organic matter, such as decomposed leaves or manure. It should be planted about 2 inches deep, with one crown, or division, in each hole. Give them plenty of room, about 3 feet apart if possible.

More tips

Be sure to remove the flower stalks before they bloom to help the stalks develop. After several years if the stalks start looking thinner you will need to divide the plants. Dig up the roots in the spring as they begin to sprout and divide so each crown has about three "eyes." Replant what you would like to keep and give away the remaining divisions to friends and family. Lastly, be sure to keep the area around your rhubarb clean and weed around it so there is plenty of air circulation, which will help keep it healthy.

Once established, rhubarb will become a hearty, dependable vegetable that will come back year after year. The following recipes are ones I have collected over the last 15 years from Michigan cooks.

Rhubarb Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 3/4 cup margarine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped
    Topping:
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:
Cream together all cake ingredients and pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan. Before baking combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients:

  • Unbaked pastry for 2 pie crusts (For the top and bottom)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced.

Directions:
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together sugar and flour. Place one of the pie crusts pastries in a pie plate for the bottom crust, and place the rhubarb in the bottom. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with strawberries and remaining sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Place on top crust and crimp edges. Cut slits in the top of the crust. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

Rhubarb Sponge Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 unbaked pie shell
  • 3 cups rhubarb, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. tapioca
  • 2 tsp. grated orange rind
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice

Directions:
Mix rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, tapioca and orange rind. Pour into the pie shell. In a small bowl, beat together eggs and sugar for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and beat one more minute. Pour over rhubarb mixture in pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and the batter is cooked.

Easy Rhubarb Jam

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups rhubarb, finely diced
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 (3 ounce) package strawberry Jell-O

Directions:
Mix rhubarb and sugar, allow to sit overnight. The next morning, boil the mixture for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add Jell-O and mix until it's dissolved. Pour into sterilized jars. Cool, and keep in refrigerator.

Rhubarb Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Directions:
Stir together in order given. Pour into greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Makes 2 loafs.

Rhubarb Cobbler

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 cups rhubarb, chopped
  • 3 ounce package strawberry gelatin
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick margarine

Directions:
Cut the 2 tablespoons margarine into the flour until crumbly. Add eggs, milk, baking powder and salt. Make a soft dough and press into an 8x8 inch pan. Press the dough up the sides of the pan. Place the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the pan . Sprinkle with the strawberry gelatin(dry). In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and margarine to make a topping. Sprinkle over the gelatin. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.

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