Oddly enough, rhubarb played a part in our love story.
Many years ago my ex, Jenn, and I had just moved into the house we bought together in Edmonton. At the back of the yard, near the fence, I had seen these strange red things growing out of the ground. To me, they looked like alien brains from the underworld, trying desperately to poke above ground. They kind of creeped me out, and I had at least one nightmare about them.
Have I mentioned that I don’t bring a lot of gardening experience to this operation?
We had a couple of Jenn’s friends over, Molly and her girlfriend Dawn, and after finding out that Dawn was a market gardener, I brought her out back to ask her what in the heck this weird looking thing was. Chuckling a little, she told me that it was rhubarb, and assured me that there was nothing to be afraid of. Said I should just let it grow.
So the first conversation my future wife and I ever had was about rhubarb.
Fast forward to present day, and while I am no longer afraid of this weird looking plant, it still piques my curiosity. The beginnings of growth in early spring, the things that creeped me out, are called ‘knuckles’, it turns out. And, just as she said, the plant grew over the spring and summer into something I recognized from my childhood, playing in my granny’s back yard.
This perennial plant loves cooler climates. In fact, it needs at least two months of cold weather over the winter to survive, so it thrives here in Northern Alberta. At Sunrise Gardens, we have rhubarb in two separate areas of the farm. The older plants are over in Dawn’s dad’s part of the yard, and since they’ve been there for years, we aren’t sure what variety they are. A few years ago, a dozen Strawberry Rhubarb plants were put in the fenced area with the berry bushes, and they are really starting to produce well for us.
Rhubarb originated in Tibet and China, and has been used for centuries in Chinese herbal medicine, as both a cathartic and a laxative. We call it ‘rhubarb’ because the plant was imported into Europe through Russia, on the Volga River, which was then known as ‘Rha’. For explorers, this part of the world was considered foreign, unknown, and full of ‘barbarians’, thus ‘Rhu-Barb’.
Rhubarb has a distict tart flavour, and the most common uses of the stalks, or petioles, are in pies, crumbles and sauces – in fact, it is often called the ‘Pie Plant’. Technically a vegetable, but often used as a fruit, rhubarb, when sweetened, is very versatile. This is the best site I’ve found for recipes and ideas on how to use fresh rhubarb.
Rhubarb is low in calories (26 calories per one cup serving) but sugar is almost always added, so keep that in mind. It’s also a good source of potassium, Vitamin C and A, and fibre.
Here at home, we love making rhubarb chutney as a side for pork dishes, or as a sauce on top of ice cream. It also makes a wondeful desert crumble.
Why don’t you give rhubarb a shot?
Trust me, there’s no need to be afraid.