Rhubarb – the Fruit that is a Vegetable

Rhubarb – the Fruit that is a Vegetable

As a native of Ireland, I have always had a soft spot for rhubarb.

This peculiar, Spring/Summer vegetable was a dessert staple that was in heavy rotation half the year (my grandparents grew rhubarb in their garden); to this day, the scent of freshly cut stalks still evoke childhood dessert memories for me.

Rhubarb crumble, rhubarb tart (Irish “pie”), rhubarb sponge (cakey spoon pudding) – usually slathered in warm custard. We were rhubarb purists…

Fresh Rhubarb Stalks

This under-appreciated perennial crop needs cold winters to set and cold nights during its growing season to thrive. So basically, Ireland is the ideal climate.

Chopped & Sugared Rhubarb

One of my favorite cookbooks is Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Fruit”. It is an alphabetical treasure trove of recipes by fruit type. Her baked rhubarb compote combines 2 pounds of diced rhubarb, the juice of one valencia orange and a cup of sugar (sometimes we throw a vanilla bean in there too if we are feeling fancy!). Covered and baked in a 350F oven for 30 minutes, the resulting compote is a bright pink, tart and sweet reminder of just how delicious rhubarb can be. For savory ideas, serve with young, soft cheeses and a crusty baguette, or as “relish” for a grilled pork chop. For desert, dollop on top of a panna cotta or vanilla ice cream, or, just keep it simple and pair it with fresh cream or slightly warmed custard.

Speaking of peculiar; the leaves of the plant are poisonous, the stalks are unpalatable raw, and, the word “rhubarb” in Ireland can be used to mean “nonsense”…
e.g. Stop talking rhubarb!!


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