Spring Brings RhubarbRhubarb is a perennial vegetable, though it is generally used as a fruit in desserts and jams. You only eat the stalks, which have a rich tart flavor. The leaves of this plant are poisonous, so be sure that they are not ingested. Rhubarb is easy to grow, but needs cool weather to thrive.
· Harvest the stalks when they are 12 to 18 inches long. Usually after 3 years, the harvest period runs 8 to 10 weeks long. If the stalks become thin, stop harvesting; this means the plant's food reserves are low.
· Grab the base of the stalk and pull it away from the plant with a gentle twist. If this doesn't work, you can cut the stalk at the base. Be sure the discard of the leaves!
· Field-grown rhubarb's peak season is April and May and it is available through the early summer. Hot-house rhubarb is generally available January through June
· You may have a bountiful harvest for up to 20 years without having to replace your rhubarb plants.
After harvest time, the stems may die back. Just remove all plant debris. Once your ground freezes, it's best to cover rhubarb with 2 to 4 inches of mulch, preferably well-rotted compost; by adding nitrogen to the soil, you're preparing the rhubarb plants for a good spring season.
Rhubarb can be eaten raw but because of its tartness, it is generally cooked and sweetened first. It can be sweetened with sugar, honey, syrup, or berry preserves. When cooking rhubarb do not use aluminum, iron or copper pans. Rhubarb has high acidity and will react with these types of metals. The reaction will cause the rhubarb to turn a brownish color and can cause the pan to discolor. It is best to use anodized aluminum, non-stick coated aluminum, or enameled cast iron pans. If the rhubarb is being baked, glass bakeware can be used also.
Rhubarb can be eaten raw with a little sugar sprinkled over it but it is generally cooked with other ingredients to produce a fruit dish of some type. Rhubarb can be used nicely to enhance the flavor of other fruits, such as pairing it with strawberries in baked sauces or beverages. It makes a delicious pie filling and is also used to make sauce in the same manner as applesauce. Rhubarb can also be used to make jellies, jams, cakes, muffins, and other desserts. It can also be used in savory dishes and is good as a sauce to serve with meats and fish.