For two solid weeks I’ve stared past piles of paper, peeked over stacks of books, looked beyond my writing desk and gazed through a frosty window to see nothing but white. My Missouri garden has been covered for too long in lingering ice and snow. Naturally, when I feel cabin feverish and downright depressed, I call one of my gardening girlfriends to share my misery.

Rhubarb pie

Savor the flavor of rhubarb pie!

Photo Credit: Dan Hemmelgarn

“A condo in Florida sounds really good to me right now,” I recently sighed to one friend in particular. “Take a deep breath,” my kind advisor offered. “We need this cold snap to prevent an overly zealous crop of bugs. Besides, remember: Rhubarb’s your reward.”

That was the salve I needed to snap out of my blues. The wintry mix is a small price to pay for the hearty stalks of rhubarb I’ll harvest this spring.

For best growth, rhubarb requires winters severe enough to freeze the ground to a depth of several inches. Without some brutal weather, we wouldn’t be able to savor one of the most sublime flavors of spring. Yes, indeed. I can wait winter out.

Like a kitten for catnip, I’m crazy for rhubarb – a genetic trait I passed on to my grown son, who lives too many miles from home. To remind his heart of our family’s kitchen garden, I typically call him while I’m simmering a bubbling blend of sugar and chopped stalks for just the right sweet/tart mix.

Call me cruel, but I do enjoy hearing the longing in his voice. Quickly, so as not to torment him too badly, I reassure him with a promise – that a jar of rhubarb spread awaits his next visit, and there’s a frozen batch of pieces reserved for a pie with his name on it.

I hope the following tips and recipes help you and your family enjoy this fantastic edible as much as I do!

Tips for Cooking

  • Trim and discard the green leaves from firm, young rhubarb stalks. Warning: The leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid. Stalks that have sustained frost damage should not be eaten because oxalic acid might have migrated from the leaves.
  • Use a non-reactive pan for cooking rhubarb. Anodized aluminum, stainless steel and enamel-coated cast iron cookware work best. Rhubarb is highly acidic, and if it’s cooked in reactive-metal pots – aluminum, iron and copper – it will turn an unappetizing brown.

Tips for Storing

  • Harvested rhubarb stalks keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Place in food-grade plastic storage bags to maintain crispness. For longer storage, cut washed rhubarb into 1- inch pieces and place in airtight freezer bags. Cooked, sweetened rhubarb also freezes well. I use ½-pint canning jars, being careful to leave about 1 inch of headspace to allow for expansion during freezing.

Super Simple Rhubarb Spread

This recipe is scrumptious on muffins, toast or spooned over rich French vanilla ice cream:

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb (about 2 pounds)
  • ¾-1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. water (approximately)

Directions

  1. Trim and discard leaves from rhubarb stalks.
  2. Wash stalks under cool running water.
  3. Chop stalks into 1-inch pieces
  4. Place stalks in non-reactive pot with water and cover with sugar.
  5. Simmer and stir over low heat until rhubarb softens and blends together.
  6. Adjust sugar to taste.
  7. (Add an additional tablespoon of water or two for a thinner sauce.)
  8. Cool and store in glass jars.

Robert’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Rhubarb Pie

Prepare your favorite pastry for a double-crust 9-inch pie, and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Ingredients

  • Filling:1¼ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Dash of salt
  • 5 cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb

Directions

  1. Mix together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Toss with rhubarb pieces. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate. Cover with top crust. Trim and crimp edges, and cut several slits on top for steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes.
  2. During the final 10 minutes of baking, glaze pie crust: Brush top of crust with a mixture of 1 Tbsp. water and 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar. Serve with a scoop of vanilla or strawberry ice cream for added decadence.

Author Charles Swindoll says, “Each day we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” What better way to create happy memories than with the aromas and flavors of fresh, home-cooked seasonal foods? And what better way to shrug off winter and welcome spring than with the beguiling taste of homegrown rhubarb!