What the heck is rhubarb? And how/why/with what does one eat it? You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers, after having spent a childhood practically immersed in rhubarb (OK, not literally). We also just received a beautiful gift of rhubarb from our friends at Melissa’s Produce, so we can’t wait to talk about rhubarb and cook a whole bunch of rhubarb stuff.
First things first: Rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows celery-like stalks that range from green to deep red (the leaves are toxic, which is why stores and markets only sell the trimmed stalks). It’s not a fruit, although it’s most often prepared like one. If you ate it raw, it would taste like a very sour celery. But most people prepare it by stewing it with sugar so it has more of a sweet-sour taste like a tangy green apple. Once you cook it down, you can make it into just about anything – cakes, breads, tarts, jams, sauces, etc.
For some reason, rhubarb was popular in German communities, and many Germans brought rhubarb recipes with them to America. Our (German) mom grew up eating rhubarb, and cooked rhubarb at home whenever it was fresh and available (generally in the spring). One staple at our house was always rhubarb sauce, which is basically like a very tangy applesauce. Sometimes we’d eat it plain from a bowl; other times we’d add it to yogurt or eat it on toast. When the Jolly Tomato kids tried it during this most recent round of cooking, they decided that the taste most closely resembled the filling from an apple-raspberry or apple-cranberry pie.
- 4 cups chopped rhubarb
- Scant ¾ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- Add all of the ingredients to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb chunks have broken down and the sauce has a smooth, silky consistency. If the sauce looks too watery, continue simmering until the sauce thickens to your taste.
If you’ve ever made applesauce, you kind of know the drill. Just watch it closely as it simmers and make sure the water doesn’t all evaporate (you can add a bit more water if it looks like it’s too dry or it’s going to burn).
Last but not least, here’s a quick sample of a breakfast I had over and over again as a kid: rhubarb toast. In this case, it’s a slice of wheat toast spread with cream cheese and rhubarb sauce, then topped with fruit. Quick and easy, with a perfect not-too-sweet tanginess.
Coming up next: Mom’s rhubarb kuchen (German cake) and more.