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pie plant

what is it?

Rosy-red, sweet-tart rhubarb is a harbinger of spring, the first fruit to come into season. Actually, though it's usually treated as a fruit and used mainly in desserts, rhubarb is technically a vegetable. The edible parts are the fleshy, celery-like stalks—in fact, the leaves are poisonous, which is why you'll never see them attached at the market.

When used in desserts, rhubarb needs a good amount of sugar to offset its tartness. The simplest way to cook rhubarb is to simmer it in a little liquid with sugar for a compote or a sauce. Rhubarb releases a lot of liquid as it cooks, so if you plan to use it in a pie or crumble, you need to add a thickener, such as tapioca or cornstarch.

how to choose:

Look for firm, crisp, unblemished stalks with a bright, intense red color. Do note, though, the color, which can range from green streaked with pink to deep red, depending on the variety and the way it was grown, is not an indicator of ripeness or flavor. Fresher stalks will be more intensely flavored. Choose thinner stalks, as larger ones can be overly stringy and tough.

how to prep:

Trim off the ends and any bits of leaves still attached. While the huge ruffled leaves of the rhubarb plant are truly impressive, they're not for eating. They contain oxalic acid, a toxin that should not be ingested in large amounts.

Peel the fibrous exterior only if it's very tough. Cut rhubarb as you would celery, into slices or small dice, depending on the recipe.

how to store:

Wrap the stalks tightly in plastic and refrigerate them; they should stay crisp for up to five days. You can also freeze sliced or diced rhubarb in plastic bags for up to six months. Frozen rhubarb tends to release more liquid and doesn't hold its shape as well as fresh rhubarb, so use it where texture is not essential, such as in muffins.

When long stalks of rhubarb flood farmers’ markets and produce aisles from April to June, preserve rhubarb by making jam, which requires only a handful of ingredients. The jam can be canned and stored for up to a year.

Comments (2)

NancyOster writes: Our local food co-op published a recipe for Rhubarb and Blueberry Pie. I was surprised at how well blueberries and rhubarb work together. I made it as a crumble in individual ramekins. When you notice everyone is scraping the inside of the ramekin to get the last bit, you know it's good.

Posted: 1:34 pm on July 23rd

Maedl writes: Astronomical spring may have begun on 20 March, but for me the real spring began shortly after noon on the next day with the season's first taste of rhubarb. Several weeks ago I came across a Syrian recipe in "A Fistful of Lentils" that intrigued me and I finally made it Saturday(adapted of course!). I highly recommend it. But, I warn you, it sounds improbable. Overcome your first reaction and give this a try:

Scrambled Eggs with Rhubarb

For one serving:

1 clove garlic
1 slender stalk of rhubarb
1 teaspoon sugar
olive oil
2 eggs
salt, pepper, mint

Finely dice the garlic. Slice the rhubarb lengthwise, down the center of the stalk and then slice it into smallish cubes.

Heat oil in a heavy frying pan. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add chopped rhubarb and a bit of salt and pepper. Stir it and watch it carefully so it doesn't burn and continue to cook until the rhubarb softens and begins to break down. Remove the rhubarb mixture to a small bowl and mix with about a teaspoon of sugar. Wipe out the pan and add more olive oil for scrambling the eggs.

Whisk the eggs lightly and season with dried mint, salt and pepper to taste. Heat the frying pan and pour in the eggs. Add the rhubarb mixture and mix it through the eggs as you scramble them. Serve on a heated plate. Posted: 8:49 am on March 25th

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