The fleeting spring season is here! Time to bask in the beautiful, mild weather before the heatwaves of summer descend upon us. Here in North Carolina, even though we enjoy a year-round growing season, some of the most anticipated fruits and vegetables are available only in the spring and summer seasons, and for a brief window of time. Over the past few days, we’ve been getting in sweet and juicy organic strawberries grown locally at Cottle Organics. They’re so good we can’t stop eating them! But we’re not here to talk about strawberries. We want to talk about another bright red beauty of the spring season – rhubarb!
It’s Not Red Celery
They may look alike, but celery and rhubarb aren’t even in the same family. Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb was declared a fruit by the United States back in the ’40’s. The stalk is the only edible part of the plant, and the leaves are poisonous. Rhubarb grows best in warmer climates in a relatively short time frame of May-June. Trying to grow rhubarb in colder parts of the world isn’t usually successful and can actually be hazardous – if the plant is damaged by cold weather, some of the toxins from the leaves can leach into the stalks. In terms of nutritional content, rhubarb is a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamin C (so that makes pie a health food, right?)
When most of us think of rhubarb, we think of where its most traditionally found in the US, and that is in strawberry rhubarb pie – and for good reason! These two complement each other perfectly. The sweetness of the strawberries mixed with the tartness of the rhubarb creates a delicious and complex flavor. If you like your desserts a little sweet-and-tangy, you MUST try this pie. Ooh, or this one.
The Sweet Side
In desserts, rhubarb harmonizes with anything that is especially sweet, which is why it pairs so well with the in-season strawberries of spring. The robust texture and tartness of rhubarb also lets it stand up to bold flavors like ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom. The resulting possibilities make for some sweet treats that are sure to be dynamic and exciting to experiment with. Here are some recipes that sound mouth-wateringly good (and rest assured, we’ll be trying them out this weekend):
Rhubarb and White Chocolate Blondies: Zingy rhubarb and sweet white chocolate combined with the caramelly flavor of brown butter? Yes, please!
Stewed Gingered Rhubarb Over Vanilla Ice Cream: Like pie a la mode without the crust, this simple preparation of rhubarb cooked down with ginger and lemon juice sounds like sugar and spice in one divine bite.
Vegan Rhubarb Cheesecake: Ever since we discovered you can make vegan cheesecake with cashews and coconut oil, we’ve had a new lease on life. Swap traditional cheesecake toppings like raspberry or strawberry with rhubarb for a dessert perfect for the spring harvest.
Left unsweetened in its natural form, rhubarb’s flavor works a lot like the acidity in citrus or vinegar when used in savory recipes. This aspect makes it great for marinades and sauces on fatty meats (ribs and roasts!) as its brightness cuts through the richness, creating a satisfying balance. Substitute rhubarb for tomatoes in this lighter, crisper barbecue sauce. We’re intrigued by this twist on slaw, made from thinly sliced fresh rhubarb, radish, and mint, served alongside lamb ribs. Rhubarb chutney, a play on the traditional Indian condiment, sounds amazing and is a great way to preserve all the rhubarb you buy in a rush of excitement over the short-lived season.
We love geeking out over the seasonal produce we are lucky enough to carry, and we hope you’ve learned a little more about one of spring’s darlings – rhubarb!