I’m rhapsodizing about rhubarb for the many fans of this old-fashioned, New Hampshire summer garden favorite.
I was reminded of a sweet memory from long ago after noticing the familiar reddish-pink stalks in the produce section of the grocery store. I couldn’t have been more than 11 or so when I first tasted the veggie-fruit one warm July day. My neighbor Andy cut off a large raw stalk for me and told me that it was rhubarb and good to eat. I trusted him because he seemed to know his way around nature and the lay of the land, often catching garter snakes and bullfrogs and picking up what he claimed were snapping turtles with ease.
I believe we found the rhubarb as we were hanging out in the woods by Field’s Grove, or maybe it was growing in his mom’s backyard a few yards away. Of course, as kids, we didn’t bother to wash the rhubarb, and Lord only knows how many skunks and other curious creatures might have traipsed through these bushy plants with the large green leaves (which I just learned are toxic).
It was tart but not unpleasant as I chomped down on this celery-like snack. Andy gave me some crimson stalks to take home, instructing me to eat them dipped in sugar. His mother Pearl made desserts with rhubarb, as did many Nashua area people. I showed the stalks to my mother, but she wasn’t impressed, and then years later her cousin gave her a big batch of homemade rhubarb sauce as a topping over ice cream.
We disliked the tangy sauce but didn’t know how to tell poor cousin Thelma, so my mother kept politely accepting frozen bags of it.
Thelma was probably on to something because rhubarb is a healthy food low in calories and naturally loaded with antioxidants and fiber. The stalks are brimming with vitamins C and K, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Folks around here love to grow it in their gardens because it presents a variety of options for creating sweet as well as savory dishes. You can bake pies, crumbles, cakes, cookies, muffins, make jams, salsas, etc., and rhubarb is amazing when paired with sweeter fruits like strawberries that balance the tart flavor.
Strawberry-rhubarb pie is a Granite State classic, and I am sure that you, your mom, or someone’s grandmother around here baked some beauties back in the day.
There are even pretty pink rhubarb cocktails with vodka and Grand Marnier. Who knew?
Cooking with rhubarb has gone high-tech, so to speak, as there are new ways to enjoy it
You can puree it in your juicer, and stir it into smoothies. Some like making exotic chutneys to smother over chicken, fish, turkey or pork, Even grilling the stalks rolled in sugar outdoors is trendy. And then, there is dried rhubarb. I’m addicted to dried cranberries, so this method piques my interest. You will need one of those cutting-edge dehydrating machines, however, but the results are chewy with a sweet-tart bite. (Nope, don’t have a dehydrator).
The plant thrives across our New England states, and it’s a major draw with our British friends across the pond. The U.K. is in love with the red stalks and features the edible, ornamental plant in their gardens. The London newspaper “The Telegraph” even published an article called “Rhubarb for Rookies.”
Top chef for the royal family, Darren McGrady, says that the Queen likes to eat seasonally, “meaning peaches in summer and rhubarb in the spring,” according to an interview with “The Sun” newspaper.
Rhubarb, fancy enough for royalty, I suppose.
Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com.