Growing up on the farm, watching for the earliest signs of spring was fun. Rhubarb is the first to emerge in the garden. Planted near a stone wall, the warmth of the sun on stone creates a little greenhouse for greens to barely emerge above the partially frozen ground. We’d watch as the huge elephant ear leaves would unfurl and grow till the ruby red and green stalks were tall enough. Mom would have me gather them and bring them to the kitchen; arms so filled I could barely see above them. She would remind me,every time, that the leaves are poisonous. So off the leaves went into the compost pile and Mom would cut the stalks up into inch long pieces and toss them into a pan with a little water and cook them down. She’d add some sugar and we’d call that dessert – or breakfast- or have it for no good reason at all. This was how we began spring. It was wonderful.
We are planting more this year. It comes in a box with a tangle of roots ready to plant in rich soil that has been amended with manure or a good fertilizer. For earliest crops try planting it facing south against a stone or brick wall, or next to the sidewalk.
Rhubarb is an interesting vegetable that we treat like a fruit. Diehards – that would be me – like rhubarb sauce alone, but most people prefer it cooked with fresh strawberries. That combination, by the way, makes an amazing pie.
In England we saw billboards with huge photos and advertisements to “Eat Rhubarb”..don’t know why they were on billboards. We don’t do that with tomatoes or strawberries, but we do with milk and beef or chicken. It must be an important crop in England to invest money into billboards. I like that about rhubarb. It’s a billboard food we hardly consider here in the “New World”.
It’s pretty easy to make. Use a saucepan that will hold all the cut up rhubarb, so I can’t tell you what size you need. It cooks down quickly.
I’ll try to break it down for you.
Cook over medium low heat for another 5 minutes until it is finished and all the fruit is soft. It will have a sort of rosy color, but I like to add a few drops of red food coloring, which isn’t at all necessary but makes a prettier presentation
Rhubarb is good for you. Adding sugar makes it a bit less than a health food, but hey! Everything in moderation and, besides, rhubarb is one of the crops you can only obtain for a few weeks in spring.