Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rhubarb: Petioles of Delight

Last week a neighbor gave us a grocery bag full of rhubarb--that is, the swollen rhubarb petioles, the part we eat. (Celery is the only other plant I can think of whose petioles we eat). The last time I cooked rhubarb, I knew nothing of petioles, or plant anatomy. I just knew my folks grew it in the garden, we cooked it for a springtime dessert, and its leaves were poisonous to farm animals, including me.

I'm sure it's been more than 30 years since I last cooked rhubarb, and I had to check my cookbook for the rhubarb-to-sugar ratio. Since I had a big batch, I also made a rhubarb pie, and, at my neighbor's request, a batch of "Overnight Rhubarb Jam." I was apprehensive about this last condiment, because it features a strawberry Jell-o component, but it turned out to be much better than it sounds. After licking the spoons, the canning funnel, and the cooking pot, I've had a hard time staying out of the jelly jars.

Here are the recipes I used.

Plain Old Rhubarb

The Joy of Cooking calls this "Poached Rhubarb," but to me, this is simply the way we cook rhubarb. The texture is something like applesauce, and I like it best after it's cooled.

1 pound rhubarb
1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar, depending on your taste, and your rhubarb.

Wash rhubarb petioles, and cut into 1/2 inch segments. Place in saucepan. Heat gently and slowly, stirring to prevent scorching, until rhubarb gives up enough liquid to dissolve sugar. Add the sugar, stirring until it dissolves. At this point you can turn up the heat a little. Continue to cook until rhubarb is the texture of applesauce.

You can eat it at this point, but I prefer to let the flavors blend as it cools.

Rhubarb Pie Filling

Wash and chop 4 cups of rhubarb. Add 1 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and mix. Place in your favorite two-crust pie, and bake at 425 degrees F for 40 to 50 minutes.

Overnight Rhubarb Jam

There are four differently-named but identical recipes for this in my Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Canning, Preserving and Freezing Cookbook. After tasting it, I understand why it's a particular favorite recipe. Don't let the Strawberry Jell-o put you off.

3 cups sugar
5 cups diced rhubarb
1 3-oz. package strawberry gelatin.

Combine rhubarb and sugar in saucepan; let stand overnight. (This draws water out of the rhubarb, and dissolves the sugar.) Bring mixture to a boil; cook until rhubarb is tender, the texture of applesauce. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved. Place in sterilized jelly jars and seal. It may be frozen instead.


Larry said...

Your last recipe is an example of the way the tastes of strawberries and rhubarb complement and enhance each other. In this part of the country strawberry-rhubarb pie is an old favorite.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Interesting about the strawberry and rhubarb combo--in southwestern Iowa, where I grew up, the rhubarb crop was over by the time the strawberries came on. For strawberry-rhubarb pie, you had to go to the grocery store for Florida strawberries.

There's more seasonal overlap here in West Virginia. Is that the case on the east side of Missori too?

Larry said...

There's a brief overlap period here, but commonly the last of the previous year's frozen strawberries are used with the current rhubarb crop.