THERE ARE NO STRAWBERRIES WHEN THE FIRST SLENDER RHUBARB comes in here about now, so how the two got forever linked as pie filling, I don’t know. But with a little planning, the choicest, tender early stalks can be waiting in suspended animation for those juiciest fruits—and any later rhubarb-laced combinations you concoct, including cocktails. How to make sweet, long-lasting order of the pucker-up vegetable we think of as a fruit, with recipes from some foodie friends:
It is barely May, and I have two things in my northern garden to eat, both perennials: the start of the asparagus crop (the previous installment of this collaborative Spring Fling online recipe swap, remember?), and likewise the earliest rhubarb.
I’m crazy about how tropical and zaftig my old rhubarb plants looks alongside the vegetable garden—and oh, those sexy, urgent-looking unfurling parts!—so I don’t harvest all its stalks at any time, but rather pick selectively to have both food and ornament.
From among the forest, I judiciously cut out some young, tender stems, picking regularly (you’d never notice, the plant is so quick to cover up my withdrawals). The big, old stems are great for holding up the biggest possible leaves…but for eating, they can get stringy, and I’m not apt to take time to de-string them (as you might with celery).
TO SAVE FOR LATER USE, remove the foliage (which is at least mildly toxic and therefore inedible), wash and dry the stems, then cut them into pieces. Pack the chunks in freezer bags. Many books recommend blanching quickly first, but why bother?
Rhubarb Compotes and Sauce
THE HANG-UP ABOUT MAKING anything with rhubarb: how much sugar it requires to become palatable. Orange juice and dried fruits (such as dates, says Mark Bittman in “How to Cook Everything;” currants work well, too) along with cinnamon or perhaps cloves can help cut back on the need for added sugar.
Depending on the ingredients and desired tart-to-sweet ratio of the finished product, a rhubarb compote could be spooned over fish or chicken (here’s one made with red wine, and served over pork)…or even ice cream. Be inventive (and note: the compotes freeze well, as would this versatile chutney with honey, allspice and fresh ginger).
Rhubarb Syrup: Sweet or Not?
RHUBARB MAKES A TASTY DRINK INGREDIENT, whether for a wine cooler, something sour (alcoholic or not) or even a twist on pink lemonade. Required: rhubarb syrup, which is easy to make by boiling chopped stems in water, with or without sweetener.
Veteran bartender Toby Cecchini used to sweeten his concoction, and then started leaving out the sugar, using only vanilla pod, water and rhubarb then straining the cooked mixture for a more versatile syrup that can go sweet or sour, as he wrote about last year for the “New York Times Magazine” blogs.
Or you can go the traditional route—simple syrup included from the start—and make this rhubarb margarita.
Either way, the syrup would freeze well, another way to savor the flavor of early spring in other seasons. And please—don’t toss the pulp after you strain the liquid off! It’s delicious in yogurt or with vanilla ice cream. Waste not, want not, right?
Recipes From My Friends
- Jessica at Food2: The Savory Side of Rhubarb
- Nicole at Pinch My Salt: Strawberry-Rhubarb Fool
- Sarah at FN Dish: Spring Fling: Rhubarb
- Liz at Healthy Eats: Rhubarb Chutney
- Diane and Todd at White On Rice Couple: Rhubarb Crumb Bars
- Gaby at What’s Gaby Cooking: Rhubarb Margarita (yum!)
- Alison at Cooking Channel: In Season: Rhubarb
How to Participate in Spring Fling
HAVE A TIP OR RECIPE to share about asparagus, or one of the other spring farm- or garden-to-table crops on our Spring Fling lineup? Put it in the comments on my blog, and copy it onto the comments on all the participating blogs (listed above) so that the maximum number of people enjoy your idea. Links back to your own blog, or sites you love, are fine; they can be to older posts from your archives, if you’re not posting something new. The more the better! The schedule of weekly themes:
- Wednesday, April 20: Asparagus
- Wednesday, May 4: Rhubarb
- Wednesday, May 18: Artichokes
- Wednesday, June 1: Strawberries
- Wednesday, June 15: Peas