Questions about rhubarb

My hubby’s been craving a Rhubarb Crumble just like (or hopefully better than) his mom used to make. I personally have never eaten or bought the stuff, but I want to please him. Some Qs:

When is the best time to buy? Spring?

What should I look for when purchasing?

Any tips on the best way to clean/chop/cook/etc?

Anything else I should know about rhubarb?
I’ve found a few recipes and I’ve noticed there are two breeds-- ones with oats and ones without. He can’t recall whether or not his mom’s crumble had oats, so I’m not getting any help there.

I haven’t worked with it much. It’s very sour by itself, so you’ll want to make sure it’s sweetened to your satisfaction before baking the crumble. My grandmother used to combine it with strawberries for pie and cobbler filling. They go well together.

Check with your husband! Some of us Rhubarb lovers live for the sour taste (somewhat sweetened, but not very sweet). I cry whenever I see Rhubarb mixed with Strawberrys as the result has always been far too sweet a pie.

You do know all about Rhubarb leaves being poisonous ? If you don’t get a good cook book or web search so that you know which parts of the rhubarb plant to never ever use!

Rhubarb is a pretty interesting plant – both the roots and leaves are poisonous, but the stalk is both edible and tasty.

It looks like pink celery but cooks down into a squishy, highly textured, very tart glop. It gives off an odd vegetablish smell before sweetening. I know, I’m not selling it well, but it’s very nice. Personally, I like it very sweetened, as noted above, opinions on sweetness levels vary, but please also note, it must always be sweetened to some degree, otherwise its almost inedibly tart, like eating a raw lemon straight up. I’m firmly in the pro-strawberry camp. :smiley:

Usually, it’s one of the first fresh fruits/vegetables of the spring. Color should be dark pink to ruby red. If the stalk is shot with lots of green, it will still taste ok, but it won’t look pretty when cooked.

For crumble topping The Joy of Cooking is my go-to – I make it with oats, flour, butter, sugar and cinnamon. (see the recipe for apple crumble).

I don’t know where you live, but if you’re in the midwest (possibly northeast, too?) the concept of buying rhubarb is basically unknown. One of your neighbors will soon have way more than they can handle growing in their backyard. Ask around, and your whole neighborhood will be trying to unload the stuff on you.

Sadly, I can barely even find it down here, and it’s always sad & wilty (and expensive!) when I do see it. We used to just dip it in sugar and eat it straight off the plant…oh the good ol’ days.

And all true rhubarb crisps involve oats. :wink:

Rhubarb is a perennial plant that thrives in most US climates. If you’re a fan, you should plant some in your yard and have a rhubarb festival every spring.

It’s also great diced fine and added to salad for a tart crunch. I also make a ginger-rhubarb-lemongrass-salmon soup.

Yay rhubarb.

So, when you say “most US climates”, you accept the secession of the Confederacy? It doesn’t grow well in the South at all. Man, do I hate gardening books that assume we’re all living in Vermont.

Hmm. I live in Zone 8. I have lived in Zone 3. Rhubarb, it says here, thrives in Zones 2-9. In the continental US, only the southern tips of TX and FL, and some more deserty areas of CA, are zoned 10 or higher; the limit is 11. So according to my personal experience, rhubarb should do just fine over about 80% to 90% of the US. Just speaking from personal experience and the climates I’ve lived in and grown it in. According to its actual zone rating, it should live in over 95% of the continental US. Outside of the continent, all of Hawaii (Zone 10-11) and central Alaska (zone 1) are also excluded.

Some maps show a sliver of Zone 10 encircling the Gulf of Mexico, like a nail trimming. I’m not gonna Google for cites, but it’s my understanding that the Mason Dixon line is somewhere north of that.

Sorry… I’ve been out all day & haven’t been able to check back. Thank you for all your replies.

I can safely assume that my husband will want it fairly sweet. He’s not really a sour kind of guy.

I did not know that the leaves are poisonous! But I do know enough about it that you’re only supposed to use the stalks. But thanks for the heads up.

And there’s no way in hell I’m going to plant rhubarb. Or anything else. Neither of my thumbs are green (I’ve killed herb gardens, for example). But the thought is nice. Maybe I’ll get my mom to grow some. She seems to do well with planting stuff.

Many thanks for your help!

FYI, you can’t kill rhubarb. Garden herbs are monumentally more difficult than rhubarb. It is a weed. You should try. What’s to lose?

See my name? I belong in the kitchen, not the garden. :slight_smile:

Does it spread like mint or does it just stay in one spot? I gotta say, I’m not keen on gardening. I. Hate. Bugs.

Stays in one spot. Like a hosta. Increases in size over time, but has a limit. Like a hosta. Very well behaved, and very VERY hardy. Plant it out by your garbage cans or something, and forget about it. Just hack it to death every spring for pie and ice cream sauce (MY favorite thing in the world). Leave a third of it or so to recharge the root for next year’s growth, or just pick a couple stems at a time as needed.

It should be mentioned that Rhubarb pie is wonderful with Custard

It is not theoretically impossible to grow it here (zone 8), but it won’t flourish, in my experience and according to my few Southern gardening books. You have to grow it in shade and it won’t be happy. It hates the summer here.

You may find frozen rhubarb in some supermarkets; it’s rare, but worth looking for. The last time I found it, it was shelved with the vegetables (botanically, of course, it is a vegetable.)

If you find good fresh rhubarb at a farmer’s market or anywhere else, buy lots and freeze it. Chop off any remaining leafy bits (it should have the leaves cut off before being sold), wash the stalks, cut into pieces, bag the pieces and freeze. I usually hate to freeze fruit because it gets mushy, but rhubarb has to be cooked anyway, so texture changes don’t matter.

I once saw dried rhubarb being sold in Trader Joe’s as a snack. It wasn’t very good.

It had to be little Dixie cups! My mother would give us a half-Dixie-cup of white sugar and some stalks of rhubarb from the garden and let us gnaw away.

Mm. Only thing better was my mum’s rhubarb pie! No strawberries in it, just rhubarb and sugar and

::pauses to salivate::

Well, that’s a bit different from “So, when you say ‘most US climates’, you accept the secession of the Confederacy? It doesn’t grow well in the South at all. Man, do I hate gardening books that assume we’re all living in Vermont.”

[li]Yes, I do say most US climates.[/li][li]That still doesn’t equal your non-sequitur “everywhere but the CSA.”[/li][li]It would appear that it does, in fact, grow well in most of the South, your immediate surroundings not withstanding.[/li][li]And yeah, when I lived in Chicago I found that most mainstream gardening books were not written exclusively for Chicago’s climate. Living in Seattle I have discovered that most mainstream gardening books are not written exclusively for the Pacific Northwest. So, you’re suggesting that all gardening books should either[list=a][/li][li]encompass all possible climates and microclimates, or[/li][li]be written with your backyard as the exclusive reference point[/li][/ol]

You know, I’m sorry if I come off as pissy here. But I realize that not all places in the US are exactly the same climate. I’ve lived in Texas, Illinois, and Washington; how could I not know that? I explicitly acknowledged this when I very consciously said “*most *US climates.” To come back with the accusation that my helpful suggestion was so tunnel-visioned and ignorant that I must be idiot enough to draw the US’s borders according Civil War maps, and that I solipsistically believe that everyone lives in Vermont–in short, because I accidentally left out the exact phrase “except for Zsofia’s backyard”–was pretty dang pissy of *you *in the first place. I’m not seeing where my attempt at being helpful, and my explicit acknowledgement that there were indeed places it would *not *thrive, deserved that kind of whiny sarcasm.

I seem to recall that if you do choose to grow rhubarb, you do need to harvest its stalks while they’re still youngish (leaving some, as lissener’s stated). I think the stalks turn more tough and woody as they age, so older stalks won’t be good for eating. But I could also be wrong there too.

Okay kids. Stop this rhubarb or I’ll send you off to bed without your rhubarb.

(I love rhubarb. I love saying rhubarb.)

Here’s a site with some information about rhubarb. There are references within to required climatic conditions, and I am including it with the stipulation that we all play nice.

I’ve made a rhubarb freezer jam with strawberry jello and pineapple. Sounds strange, but it’s great on toast or English muffins. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it.


5 c. rhubarb - wash, ends removed, leaves discarded, diced
5 c. sugar
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple
1 (6 oz.) strawberry gelatin

In medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar and pineapple; boil slowly for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add gelatin stirring until thoroughly dissolved. Seal in sterilized jelly glass jars, wiping edge. Place sterilized lids and screw bands on sterilized jars and tighten. As jam cools, lids will pop. Cool to room temperature. Wash and dry outside of jars. Place in freezer. Makes 8 eight ounce jars or 16 four once jars. Defrost to serve. *

I’m sorry if I came off as pissy - it’s just been very frustrating to, say, try to figure out when to plant bulbs and get “before the ground freezes” in all the books. If the ground ever froze here we’d be so scared we’d pee in our pants!

My only point was that while in a lot of the country rhubarb grows like a real weed, it doesn’t here. My mother’s tried to grow it, I’ve tried to grow it, nobody I know grows it and the books say “don’t bother in the South”. Sure, maybe you can grow it - if I wanted to I bet I could grow just about anything given enough equipment and knowledge, but all the advice of “oh, just stick it in the ground and watch out!” is simply not true everywhere.