It’s a delicious time to live here in Virginia. Farm stands and CSA shares are overflowing with late-spring crops. In season right now are June-bearing strawberries, asparagus, snap and snow peas, and irresistible rhubarb!
Did You Know…
…that rhubarb leaves are poisonous to humans (and some animals)? It’s true! Whether raw or cooked, the leaves contain such high amounts of oxalic acid that ingesting them could lead to:
- burning in the mouth and throat,
- difficulty breathing,
- abdominal pain,
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
- coma, or
- death from cardiovascular collapse.
Now granted, a 145-pound person would need to eat about 11 pounds of rhubarb leaves for it to kill them. But only a fraction of that amount is needed to cause sickness. So don’t eat the leaves, and follow these tips if growing your own:
- Trim the leaves from the stalks immediately.
- Don’t use stalks from frost-bitten plants.
- Wash the stalks well.
- Teach children to eat only the stem, and to wait for supervision.
[Random note: The word rhubarb is also slang for a heated discussion or quarrel.]
Now That I’ve Made You Afraid of Rhubarb…
…let’s learn how to prepare it! It really is quite delicious. Although it looks somewhat like a pink and red celery stalk, it’s actually quite sweet and is most often used in dessert or sweet condiments, commonly alongside strawberries.
This recipe (adapted from Nourished Kitchen), is a dreamy spring dish. Using the best of the season (rhubarb, strawberries, spring cream and eggs), it is rich and satisfying. Raw honey is the only added sweetener (beyond the fruit). I actually served this for breakfast!
Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote with Honey Custard
1 Tbsp. ghee (could sub grassfed butter)
1 bunch rhubarb stalks, trimmed and diced (about a pound, but this flexible)
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and diced (again, this amount is flexible)
2-3 Tbsp. raw honey (start with less and adjust to taste)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
*Set up a double boiler and bring water to a boil (or fit a bowl inside a saucepan).
*Mix the vanilla into the cream, and then pour into the double boiler. Cook until hot.
*Whisk in the honey to taste, and then drop a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream into your beaten egg yolks, to warm them. (This is called tempering.)
*Add the tempered yolks to the boiler, and stir and cook until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Move to a dish and let rest.
*Melt ghee in a saucepan over a medium-low flame. Add the rhubarb and cook until soft, about five minutes.
*Add in the strawberries, honey to taste, and orange juice and zest. Cooking two-three more minutes, until fruit is soft (but not mushy), reducing the flame if necessary.
*Transfer to a serving dish and top with the honey custard.
Bonus: Leftover compote is delicious on ice cream or in yogurt!
I generally don’t drink sweet beverages. But for a special treat, I will be making this with my next bunch of rhubarb.
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
1 lb. rhubarb stalks, chopped into 3/4″ pieces (4 cups)
12 oz. strawberries, divided in half (2 cups)
3 inch ginger, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
3/4 cup to 1 cup raw palm sugar (to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups filtered water
Juice from 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)
20 mint leaves
*In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, strawberries, ginger, sugar, vanilla and water. Bring to a boil and then lower the temperature.
*Add the lime juice and the mint leaves. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*Strain through a sieve, removing the pulp. Let cool in the refrigerator.
*Serve in a large pitcher with lots of ice, garnished with a handful of chopped rhubarb, a few strawberries and lime slices. Consume within one week.
Some more traditional uses for rhubarb are making pies and jams or jellies. If you don’t already have recipes you love, check these out:
- Consider using one of the crust recipes found in this post.
- If you have a breadmaker, and if it has a “jam” cycle, making jam is a breeze. Add 3/4 cup (8 oz.) hulled, very ripe strawberries and 3/4 cup (8 oz.) firm, chopped rhubarb stalks, along with 1-1/2 cups palm sugar, to your breadmaker and start the “jam” cycle.
- No breadmaker? Try the same proportions of ingredients, along with a teaspoon or so of lemon juice, in a saucepan on the stovetop over low heat.
- While you don’t want to overcook, a longer cooking time will eliminate the need for added pectin. Alternatively, I’ve read that you can add a couple of apple wedges while it cooks for extra (natural) pectin.
- Ever tried honey instead of sugar when making jam? I plan to try this next.
What are your favorite rhubarb recipes?
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