Spring Brings Tongue-Tingling Rhubarb

March 14, 2017 in Foodland Chronicles, General, Health, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

The mountain west endured an especially snowy winter. Being a native of sunny southern California, I must say, the weeks of cloudy, snowy, grayness became a little monotonous, especially when the clouds were right up to the windows for days at a time. As many of you know by now, gardening is my hobby. Walking around the mess on the ground that long months of snow revealed when it finally melted is a little disheartening; but the warm air on my bare arms was a treat. I’ve rapidly acclimated to the spring air. Although the yard has “spring clean me!” written all over it, the hope of spring is apparent. The fruit trees have already begun swelling their buds. The forsythia is peeking yellow. The little crocuses are cheerfully offering lavender, white, yellow and purple. The daffodils, tulips and most of the other flowers are shooting up leaves. But the Lenten Rose plants are, as their names suggest, already blooming. I must admit; I was never so excited for spring when I lived in southern California. Both places have their benefits for gardeners, but spring has a much more emotionally-powerful effect on me here in the mountain west.

During my time in the garden last week, I walked past the rhubarb plants. Well, they don’t exactly look like plants yet. They’re kind of like peonies, if you know about them. They die all the way to the ground, and in the spring, Viola! Little shoots pop from the earth. They’re one of the early signs of spring. I have four plants that I brought with us from our other home when we built this home almost three years ago. Right now mine are pressing their little heads above the soil.

If you’re not like me, and don’t really love to garden, you may want to consider planting a rhubarb plant. It doesn’t take much work. I know that you can grow them from seeds; but I’ve never tried. Rhubarb is just plain easy to grow from transplants. Once they’re happily in the soil, in a well-drained, sunny location, all you do is watch it grow and when the stalks are developed, cut them down to the ground. Each spring I harvest a large batch; and in the fall a small second batch. Each year, they do their entire act with nothing more than a little organic fertilizer, sun and water.

We can’t eat it all when it’s harvested; so some goes to friends and I freeze the rest. It’s among the easiest food to freeze. I cut all the leaves off. (The leaves can be toxic; so don’t eat leaves, and don’t even plant your rhubarb near Swiss chard, so there’s no chance of confusing them.) Wash the harvested, de-leafed stalks and dry them. Store in the refrigerator for a week or so in a plastic bag. Or cut into little half-inch chunks and pour into a plastic freezer bag. Some of the ones that I freeze, I portion for the amount that goes into one batch of oatmeal for Vic and me. Then it is so easy to empty the bag right onto the oatmeal before microwaving it, then a quick stir, and serve delicious hot oatmeal with tartly, tingling chunks of rhubarb, zinging up each spoonful.

There are some really nice things about rhubarb; let me share a few. To begin with, rhubarb is a vegetable and is very low in calories. A ½-cup serving of raw diced rhubarb has about 13 calories; a gram of fiber; vitamin C; potassium and vitamin K among other phytonutrients.

You may have the idea that rhubarb is only to make rhubarb-strawberry pie, crisps, and jams, but actually there are many ways to use rhubarb. It is also nice as a topping for yogurt, added to pancakes and muffins, used in smoothies and made into flummery. The tang of rhubarb is a nice addition to meat or fish, too.

Combining rhubarb with other flavors is fairly common. Some of the common flavors that combine nicely with rhubarb are vanilla, ginger, lemon, orange, peach, mango and berries.

Whether you grow rhubarb or not, the official first day of spring is just around the corner, March 20, 2017. If you endured a gray winter, my wish for you is a glorious spring and maybe a bit of rhubarb to tingle your tongue.