Although it is used in pies, jams and as a sweet sauce, rhubarb is usually considered a vegetable, according to Wikopedia.
But in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used as a fruit, it should be counted as a fruit.
Rhubarb is now grown in many areas and, thanks to greenhouse production, is available throughout much of the year. That grown in green houses is called hothouse rhubarb and is typically made available at consumer markets in early spring, before outdoor cultivated rhubarb is available.
SATISFYING — A strawberry-raspberry-rhubarb crumble is a satisfying spring dessert, with the rhubarb being in supermarkets now, along with strawberries. The raspberries might have to be frozen right now, though. Try this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or as my father-in-law would do, pour milk over it.
-- Esther McCoy
Hothouse rhubarb is usually brighter red, more tender and sweeter-tasting than outdoor rhubarb. In temperate climates, rhubarb is one of the first food plants harvested, usually in mid-to-late spring, April and May in the northern hemisphere and October and November in the southern hemisphere.
Rhubarb is ready to consume as soon as harvested and freshly cut stalks are firm and glossy. The color of the stalks can vary from crimson red through speckled light pink to simply light green. Color is not related to its suitability for cooking. The green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, but the red colored stalks are much more popular with consumers.
Rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten, as it may be high in oxalic acid, which migrates from the leaves and can cause illness.
For cooking, the stalks are cut into 1-inch pieces and stewed in boiling water, only enough to barely cover the stalks. Rhubarb stalks contain a great deal of water on their own. One half to three-fourths cup of sugar is needed for each pound of rhubarb. Spices such as cinnamon and/or nutmeg can be added to taste. Sometimes a tablespoon of lime juice or lemon juice can be added.
Rhubard sauce is like applesauce, stored in the refrigerator and eaten cold. It can be thickened with cornstarch and water and be used as a filling for rhubarb pie.
Rhubarb has been referred to in the 19th century as pie plant. It can be used to make a fruit wine as well as pies.
In former days, a common and affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb dipped in sugar. It is still eaten this way in western Finland, Norway, Iceland and some other parts of the world. Rhubarb is sold on the street in Chile, with salt or dried chili pepper, not sugar as the accompaniment.
Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, which is a nephrotosic and corrosive acid that is present in many plants. Humans have been poisoned after ingesting the leaves. Such poisoning was a particular problem in World War I, when the leaves were recommended as a food source in Britain.
Here is a recipe for a coffee cake made with bits of rhubarb tucked inside the batter and covered with a streusel topping. It makes two nine- serving size coffee cakes.
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup shortening, butter or margarine
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream, 8 ounces
2 cups diced fresh or frozen rhubarb,thawed
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Cream brown sugar and shortening in a mixing bowl. Beat in egg. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture, alternately with sour cream. Fold in rhubarb. Pour into two greased 8-inch square baking dishes. Combine the streusel ingredients. Sprinkle over batter in both pans. Bake at 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks. May be frozen for up to six months.
Rhubarb combines well with other fruits. This recipe combines strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb with a rich crumble mixture. It comes out gooey with fruit and crisp from the topping.
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/2 cup butter, melted
6 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chambord or raspberry liqueur, optional
Preheat oven to 375. Batter a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. For topping, in a medium bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and lemon peel. Add melted butter; mix until clumps form. Cover and chill topping while preparing filling.
For filling, in a very large bowl, combine strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Toss well to combine. If desired, drizzle Chambord over fruit mixture; gently toss to combine. Transfer filling to prepared baking dish. If using frozen fruit, allow mixture to stand for 45 minutes at room temperature. Remove topping from refrigerator. Cover filling evenly with the topping. Place baking dish in a 15-by-10-inch baking pan. Bake about 1 hour and 25 minutes or until fruit is bubbly in the center and topping is golden. If necessary, cover the top with foil the last 30 minutes of baking to prevent topping from over browning before the fruit is cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature with or without ice cream. Makes 12 servings at 287 calories each.
This recipe was found in the Good Housekeeping magazine. It is for a cake somewhat like a sponge cake with a rich, red fruit filling between three layers and a creamy, cream cheese frosting. Strawberries could top the cake as well.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Layer Cake
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced
1 pound strawberries, about 4 cups, trimmed and chopped, plus sliced strawberries for garnish
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
12 tablespoons butter, no substitutions, cut up at room temperature
1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups heavy cream, very cold
Into a 4-quart saucepan, squeeze juice from an orange. Stir in 2 cups granulated sugar. Cook on medium-high until sugar dissolves, stirring. Add rhubarb; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a bowl; cool slightly. Refrigerate, uncovered for 2 hours. Stir in chopped strawberries and refrigerate. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans. In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, whole eggs, 1/4 cup milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla until combined.
In a large bowl, with mixer on low speed, mix flour, baking powder, remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat in butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk on medium high-high speed. Add egg mixture in three batches, beating well between additions. Divide batter evenly among pans. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Loosen sides with knife. Invert cakes onto racks and cool completely. Place one cake on plate. Strain liquid from rhubarb mixture and discard. Spread half of rhubarb on cake, leaving 1-inch border. Repeat with second cake and remaining rhubarb. Top with third cake.
In a large bowl, with mixer on high, whisk confectioners' sugar, cream cheese and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla until fluffy. Slowly drizzle in cream.
Whisk on high until stiff peaks form. Cover cake with frosting. Garnish with berries. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap before adding the strawberry garnish which can be added when serving. Refrigerate for up to one day or it can be frozen for up to a month, with the fresh strawberries on top. Makes 16 servings with 485 calories per slice.
Here is a pie with a rhubarb and strawberry filling and a topping of flour, coconut and almonds. It is from the Old Farmers Everyday Baking Almanac.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie with Coconut Crumb Topping
3 cups hulled and halved fresh, ripe strawberries
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie crust
Line deep dish pie pan with pie crust. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes while making the filling.
For the filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest and tapioca in a large bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes to juice. Once it has juiced, turn filling into pie shell and smooth the top with a spoon. Bake on center oven rack for 30 minutes.
While it bakes, make the topping. For the topping: Combine sugar and almonds in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground. Add flour, coconut and salt. Pulse several times to mix. Scatter butter over the dry ingredients. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not overprocess. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and rub the topping between your fingers until the texture is uniform. Refrigerate.
When the pie has baked for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and carefully spread the topping over the fruit. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes more, until the topping is golden brown and any visible juices bubble thickly. Transfer to a rack and cool. Makes eight servings.
(McCoy can be contacted at email@example.com.)