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Friday, May 8, 2015

Rhubarb, More to it than Pie

Garden rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum)
Rhubarb is one of those plants that is rarely used except when making cobbler or pie, especially in strawberry season. It is a green leafy plant with pink and red stalks, and though used in fruit recipes it is actually a vegetable.Those stalks can grow to be two feet tall and each are topped with a large, umbrella-like leaf. Only the stalks are edible, as the leaves and roots naturally produce a toxic compound called oxalic acid that helps ward off predators.

Though rhubarb looks a lot like celery, they are not related. Celery belongs to the parsnip family, Umbelliferae, while rhubarb belongs to the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae. Celery is an annual plant, but rhubarb is one of the few vegetables that is a perennial and produces from year to year.

Gardens containing asparagus and rhubarb are wonderful because these vegetables return to us every spring. Its tart tang is usually combined with anything sweet, finding a delicious balance between sweet and sour. Those long, ribbed, red stalks are crisp when raw, but cook down into a thick mush that is perfect for preserves, pies, cobblers and sauces.

Late May and early June are the best time for rhubarb, though it continues to grow all summer. The older and larger the stalks, the tarter and tougher they are. Being a perennial, the plant needs to get established before you should start picking stalks from it. Leave it alone the first year and pick sparingly the second year, than by the third year the stalks should be nice and thick. Rhubarb plants grow best if started from roots and last five to eight years.

Rhubarb is hand picked and each stalk is gently pulled and twisted off from the base rather than cut. You can pick as needed or harvest up to two-thirds of the plant at once. With good weather conditions, you should be able to harvest the entire plant (but leave a third) up to three times in a season. But at the end of the growing season take off all the leaves for the winter so there aren't any rotting which could effect the crown.

Rhubarb originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago and was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities. It was not until the 18th century that rhubarb was grown for culinary purposes in Britain and America.

Rhubarb has long been used in natural medicine for its diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties. 
It is a great alternative source of calcium for people who prefer not to consume dairy.  
A little bit of expressed juice from fresh rhubarb brushed on the teeth with a soft brush coats the enamel with potassium, calcium and phosphorus, all protective minerals against tooth decay.
Rhubarb's high fiber is very useful for relieving constipation and being an astringent plant, can also help stop diarrhea. 

Rhubarb has also been used for cosmetic purposes. The stalks make a wonderful hair-lightening rinse. Simmered in white wine or water, regular use can cause noticeable golden highlights in your hair.


 Taken from "Natural Beauty From The Garden" by Janice Cox

 I have two versions with the same instructions for either one:

3 fresh rhubarb stalks and 2 cups white wine or water
or
3 fresh rhubarb stalks, 1 tbsp honey and 2 cups water
 
Chop the red rhubarb stalks into small pieces and place in a medium-size saucepan. Cover with either wine or water and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture sit for another 30 minutes, then strain and save the liquid. 
Leave the mixture on clean, damp hair for 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the degree of lightening desired. Repeat weekly.

Makes from 12 - 16 oz which is enough for 1 - 2 treatments.
If using the same batch for another treatment, keep the mix in the refrigerator till needed.

Aside from pies, jams and sauce recipes, this one is quick, simple and can be thrown together for a last minute easy dessert.

Taken from "Amish and Mennonite Kitchens" by Phyllis Pellman Good and Rachel Thomas Pellman

Rhubarb Crunch
Rhubarb is not cut out, but rather pulled out. "Open" up the rhubarb plant and wedge your index finger way down inside the stalk, encircle it with your hand, and pull slowly but firmly while twisting the stalk at the "base", (also referred to as the "crown" or the "rhizome").
Cut off most of the leaf, leaving about 2 - 3 inches, (this is called a "crowfoot"). Leaving a little bit of the leaf will help to keep moisture in the stalk, so it will stay fresh and crisp longer. This is especially important if you plan to store the rhubarb in your fridge for several days. If you are planning on freezing or canning your rhubarb, you can chop off the entire leaf of each stalk. The easiest way to chop off the leaves is with a sharp knife striking the leaf diagonally with a quick flick of the wrist.
- See more at: http://www.rhubarb-central.com/harvesting-rhubarb.html#sthash.3Nm29uBx.dpuf

When harvesting rhubarb, almost all of the rhubarb stalks may be harvested at one time, or you can harvest selectively over the growing season period.
It is recommended to leave about one-third of the developed stalks when harvesting the entire plant. However, when you make the last rhubarb harvest of the season, remove all of the leaves, to avoid rotting leaves affecting the crown.
- See more at: http://www.rhubarb-central.com/harvesting-rhubarb.html#sthash.3Nm29uBx.dpuf
When harvesting rhubarb, almost all of the rhubarb stalks may be harvested at one time, or you can harvest selectively over the growing season period.
It is recommended to leave about one-third of the developed stalks when harvesting the entire plant. However, when you make the last rhubarb harvest of the season, remove all of the leaves, to avoid rotting leaves affecting the crown.
- See more at: http://www.rhubarb-central.com/harvesting-rhubarb.html#sthash.3Nm29uBx.dpuf
1 cup flour, sifted (half white flour, half wheat flour)
1/4 cup oatmeal or rolled oats, uncooked
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups diced rhubarb stalks

Stir together the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Use a pastry blade to chop until crumbly.
Set aside half the crumb mixture.
Pat the remaining crumbs over the bottom of a 9 ' square baking pan or a pie pan.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, water and vanilla in a medium size pot. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
Add the rhubarb and cook gently until mixture becomes thick and clear. Stir frequently.

Pour the rhubarb sauce over the crumbs which are in the pan.
Crumble the remaining crumbs over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes

Let cool a while to allow the sauce to thicken before serving.
Serve as is or with ice cream.
When harvesting rhubarb, almost all of the rhubarb stalks may be harvested at one time, or you can harvest selectively over the growing season period.
It is recommended to leave about one-third of the developed stalks when harvesting the entire plant. However, when you make the last rhubarb harvest of the season, remove all of the leaves, to avoid rotting leaves affecting the crown.
- See more at: http://www.rhubarb-central.com/harvesting-rhubarb.html#sthash.3Nm29uBx.dpuf