Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable?
This is what my brain started to wonder about a couple of weeks ago.
The visual from my yard that prompted this initial question:
I’m proud to say that while I was tempted to say it’s a fruit (based on my association of rhubarb to sweet baked goods), just before I clicked enter when I put that question into Google search, I thought “no, it’s a vegetable”. I think it’s because it grows in the ground.
It’s not uncommon for a question answered to lead to another question, which is what happened next.
Because of course, I have no idea what to do with it. I fancy myself a maven of the kitchen, but rhubarb is not something that has ever been in my repertoire. My vague recollection of rhubarb, as I don’t think Bonnie (my mom) grew it in her backyard garden, is that it’s not pleasant to eat raw. That must have been someone else’s garden. It tasted like sour celery. I do have memories, however, of enjoying it baked in cake or muffins.
So, I proceeded on a quest for “best practices” for all things rhubarb. My walking buddy/neighbor, who is far more knowledgeable than I of all things gardening, told me last week that I ought to be picking it within the next couple of weeks.
Time was of the essence, and because I think it’s more fun to crowd- source certain questions than it is to Google it out, I turned to Facebook.
I learned that cutting the stalks is a no-no. Doing so prevents it from growing back next year. I was told by many to not eat the leaves as they are poisonous (not like it would occur to me to eat them in the first place). Freezing the cut-up stalks was a common piece of advice, which I will be following. My Facebook friends were enthusiastic about strawberry rhubarb jam and pies too.
One response was via DM from a friend from our old neighborhood in La Crosse. She had just pulled her rhubarb stalks out of her garden and was in the process of cooking them down with water and sugar to make sauce when she happened upon my query on Facebook. She told me she freezes the sauce to pour over ice cream, yogurt, or cake in the winter months. She also shared that she makes a “mean” rhubarb gin and tequila. I’m not a gin fan, but that sure sounds like a creative use for this vegetable doesn’t it?
I also perused Bonnie’s recipe box and found a few different recipes for cake, muffins, and pie. I love seeing her handwriting on these cards. It conjures up her voice for me, which is bittersweet. Kind of like rhubarb, I suppose.
The surprise bonus for me was the anecdotal information Bonnie provided on some of the recipe cards. The “Mom” in the recipe referred to as “Mom’s Wonderful Rhubarb Cake” was Bonnie’s mom, my Grandma Pearl. I gathered this from Bonnie writing “just super good and mom doesn’t esp. like rhubarb”. Another recipe card I found among the rhubarb recipes in Bonnie’s recipe box was for orange bread. She noted at the top of the card “Dad’s”. That would be her dad, my Grandpa Fritz.
I’m thinking rhubarb sauce would be quite delicious drizzled on top of this orange bread. I’ll report back once I’ve tried making it.