Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stewed Rhubarb

Rhubarb runs a close race with garlic for being the first thing up in my garden. It is a perennial related to, of all things, buckwheat. But not so close as to resemble buckwheat in any way, although stewed rhubarb on buckwheat pancakes might be interesting to try. It pokes its nose up in early spring from a rather large root, also often referred to as a tuber, sending up a large number of usually red stems that sport large heart-shaped leaves. It's the stems that provide the entertainment here. Rhubarb can be harvested once the plant has plenty of stems that have grown to full length, usually a foot or up to 2 feet of red, green or combo colored stem with a big leaf at the end. In my area this usually means mid May. I harvest about half the stems, taking the largest ones, up to an inch in diameter, by grabbing them near their base and twisting them free. Trim off the leaf and you are left with a pretty straight, at least partially red stem.

Rhubarb is very tart and only the most determined soul could eat it unsweetened. Take a bite of the raw stalk to see what I mean. However, combined with oats, butter and brown sugar in a rhubarb crisp or when stewed and sweetened and then served on yogurt for breakfast or for desert it is really tasty and fun to eat. My recipe for stewed rhubarb makes a pretty tart product, so plan to adjust per your tastes. The recipe is simplicity. Combine 5 qts chopped rhubarb (1/2 - 1 inch pieces) with one cup honey in an 8 quart stock pot. Cover and heat until simmering, with frequent stirring. Once the rhubarb is softened, sample to be sure sweetening is correct for your tastes and correct if necessary. That's it. Be sure to try some hot stewed rhubarb on vanilla ice cream. Good stuff, Maynard. For some variations, try adding strawberries or blueberries to the mix.

Stewed rhubarb can be easily canned and is a great treat in mid winter, a taste of springtime while there is snow on the ground. To can stewed rhubarb, ladle it into clean pint jars, put on the lids and rings and process for 15 min in a boiling water bath. This recipe makes 6 pints plus one half pint, with maybe a little left over to sample.

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