We Have Rhubarb
HARVEST AND STORE RHUBARB NOW UNTIL THE FOURTH OF JULY
Rhubarb doesn’t grow just anywhere in the U.S. It needs a period of at least 17 weeks of cold dormancy between active growing periods in order to thrive so, for example, people in Florida and California cannot grow Rhubarb. When people say they do not like Rhubarb, they just don’t appreciate that it’s a delicacy found only in certain regions of the world. Well, maybe not such a delicacy. Rhubarb was never used as a food plant until the onset of white, refined sugar came into our lives, shall we say in the 18century? Rhubarb was always used as a medicinal plant until one day someone added some sugar to it and found that, in a strange way, it tasted really good.
There are, of course, many recipes for Rhubarb jam and sauce and so forth that you all must already know. For the storage shelf, I can suggest making Rhubarb juice to can or freeze (delicious), a couple of jams you may not have tried, and a special trick for freezing Rhubarb. Finally, the matriarch of the Nowicki family, Great-Grandma Nowicki makes a wonderful cake from the Depression era that I would love to share with you. As you might expect, it’s not gooey sweet but it’s spicy and delicious with morning coffee. I’ve taken the recipe and used it to make muffins, decorated with one whole pecan pressed into the top of each one—-Aah, perfection!
Freezing Rhubarb is Easy
Instead of chopping it up into small chunks and dry pack freezing it, which can cause the edges to dry out, I can suggest to cut long pieces, say 6” long. Then, dry pack freeze the long pieces and freeze them together in bundles. When you are ready to use the Rhubarb, chop into pieces before it completely thaws so that you won’t be dealing with a gooey mess.
GREAT-GRANDMA NOWICKI’S DEPRESSION RHUBARB CAKE
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs(locally sourced)
2 cups Rhubarb, small pieces
1 teaspoon soda
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Sift flour with dry ingredients. Add flour mixture alternately with milk; stir in rhubarb. Pour mixture into greased 9×13 pan. Mix together sugar and cinnamon for topping. Sprinkle evenly over cake. Sprinkle nuts evenly over that and press in lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
This cake freezes really well.
GOOSEBERRY RHUBARB JAM
2 cups finely chopped Rhubarb
½ cup water
2 cups Gooseberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
5 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
1. Place Rhubarb and water in a very large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 3 minutes.
2. Stir Gooseberries, lemon juice and sugar into Rhubarb. Return to a full boil over high heat and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in pectin.
3. Ladle into sterilized jars and process in water bath canner for 5 minutes.
Makes 5 cups
Sorry for the license taken. Of course you know Bluebarb jam, a combination of blueberries and rhubarb, which is scrumptious! Well, here I have taken the liberty of substituting serviceberries, also called juneberries. The trees are so laden this year that the branches are touching the ground. We have harvested quarts and quarts of the delicious berries this year to use later and are planning to dry and freeze them to use in granola and muffins and so forth.
For those of you who don’t know, the name serviceberry was derived from the days when burials could not be held in the winter because in the country the ground was frozen solid. So the bodies were held until Spring and all the services were held at one time just about the time when the Serviceberry was blooming and the ground was soft enough to dig into.
3 ½ cups Rhubarb, chopped
½ cup water
2 ¼ cup Serviceberries, coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 box dry fruit pectin
5 ½ cups granulated sugar
1. Place Rhubarb and water in a very large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.
2. Add Serviceberries, lemon juice and pectin; mix well. Bring to a boil over high, stirring constantly. Ladle into sterilized jars and process in hot water bath for 5 minutes.
Makes 6 cups.
RHUBARB JUICE TO CAN OR FREEZE
18 cups Rhubarb, chopped
12 cups water
1. Simmer Rhubarb and water until Rhubarb has released all of its color and pulp-may take 50 to 60 minutes.
2. Strain through a fine sieve.
3. At this point you may add 1 to 1 ½ cups sugar to the hot mixture and stir thoroughly until the sugar dissolves.
You can process it in quart jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. It makes 4 quarts. It can be used as is or mixed for punch drinks with fruit or with ginger ale or with seltzer.
If desired, you can allow it to cool and freeze it in quart-sized containers.
I once taught a class at The Morton Arboretum called “25 Ways to Eat Rhubarb” in which I prepared all the 25 dishes without labels and made the students guess from a list what everything was! There are so many ways to eat it: Jam, Jelly, Compote, Sauce, Pie, Cake, Crumble, Bar, Cookie, Juice, Chutney, Soup, Glaze for Meat, and I could go on.
I am a nut for rhubarb, with those poisonous leaves, even though it tastes kinda funny.