Bunch of fresh picked organic rhubarb isolated on white background

What a beautiful fan. Nope, it’s Rhubarb.

As a child, probably younger than 8, I remember visiting my great aunt’s house in Utah with my mother. As we were about to leave, I watched my mom take some scissors and cut down a few of the long red stalks with huge leaves on the top that were lining my aunt’s driveway. My mother had a look of excitement as she placed her treasures in a sack and laid it in the front seat of the car. I always wondered why my mom would be so excited over red and green fan looking plants.

I recently found out that the plant I imagined was used by royalty to keep cool in the summer, can really be used to make one of my mother’s favorite pies, Rhubarb Pie. And the leaves are not always as big as I imagined in my childhood.

Julie Thompson at the Huffington Post informed me that “Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but is legally considered a fruit. In 1947 a New York court declared rhubarb a fruit because it’s most often cooked as one in the United States. Rhubarb is sold by the stalk, like celery. It’s harvested in the spring, with a short season that spans from April to June. Rhubarb stalks are famous for their bright pink color but they can also be light pink and even pale green. The color is not an indication of ripeness or sweetness, like it is with other fruits. The stalks are the only edible part of the plant; in fact, the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous. Rhubarb is naturally tart — and we mean bone-chillingly tart — when it’s raw, so very few brave souls ever eat it in its raw state. It’s almost always cooked or baked with a generous serving of sugar. Like in pie, for example. Rhubarb is famously paired with strawberries — spring’s other darling. Strawberry rhubarb pie might be the most popular way to prepare it, but there are many more options, such as donuts, cakes and floats.”

I really had a hard time believing that the leaves could be poisonous so I went hunting for more details. Organic Facts says, “Interestingly enough, the stalks are the only things eaten, because the triangular leaves are extremely high in oxalic acid, which can cause severe illnesses in people, resulting in the common belief that rhubarb is poisonous. If the plant is subject to extreme cold, the dangerous acid can migrate into the stalk, so be sure to store rhubarb in a warm or temperate space, just like the climate it normally grows in.” Okay. Will Do!

From asking around GoFresh what other people know about rhubarb, I heard about Rhubarb Champagne. Interesting, but how else, beside in a pie, can I consume this tart “fruit”? The Megan Gambino from Smithsonian.com has 5 suggestions.

1. Raw: Before you do any cooking with rhubarb, you ought to at least try it raw. Many suggest dipping the stalk in sugar or some other sweet, such as honey, maple syrup or agave nectar, to mellow its tartness a touch. Sprinkling diced rhubarb over yogurt or cereal is an option too.
2. Stirred: Rhubarb, like cranberries, can add a tart zing to a smoothie, and if you puree the vegetable, it can be added to a margarita as well. For a tasty nonalcoholic beverage, Serious Eats starts out by making a similar rhubarb syrup but instead adds it to freshly-steeped iced tea, topping it off with strawberries.
3. Smothered: Rhubarb sauces, chutneys and salsas add a unique flavor to savory dishes. Food writer Kim O’Donnel says that rhubarb chutney—a good way to make use of rhubarb before it wilts—complements salmon, trout, roast chicken, turkey, duck and pork chops. It sounds easy too. She cooks one-inch pieces of rhubarb with orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and dates. A surprisingly butterless recipe from Paula Deen for grilled chicken with rhubarb salsa calls for a salsa that mixes together rhubarb, strawberries, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil. Yum! But perhaps the most creative condiment is rhubarb aioli, which award-winning chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon, pairs with pork. He folds a rhubarb reduction into his homemade garlic mayonnaise.
4. Roasted: Raw julienned rhubarb can be added to a garden salad, but several recipes I have found instead suggest roasting chunks of rhubarb on a baking sheet drizzled with honey or sprinkled with sugar for about five minutes, letting them cool and then tossing them in with greens. These same recipes recommend a killer combination of rhubarb, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, arugula and fennel.
5. Dried: This one is rather time-intensive, and requires a dehydrator, but the fruit-roll-up-loving kid in me likes the sound of the rhubarb leather one commenter on Backpacker.com describes. Basically, to make it, you cook rhubarb in water, with a cinnamon stick, and add sugar to taste, until it is the consistency of applesauce. Then, you pour it into dehydrator trays lined with parchment paper and dry at 135 degrees for nine hours.”

To summarize, separate the leaves from the stalk before storing in a colder area and have a sweetener close by in addition to however you decide to prepare and consume Rhubarb. If all else fails, you can always have it in the summer as a beautiful fan.

Eat Live, GoFresh!