The first actual harvest out of the garden here every year is rhubarb. The plants are
ridiculously hardy and are always the first to spring up. After the chives, which pop up as soon as the snow is gone, rhubarb is the first real thing we harvest. As soon as the goofy looking red bulbs of the sprouts
pop up we start thinking about rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb and strawberry, rhubarb sauces of various types. In some parts of the world the more tender stalks are dipped in sugar and eaten raw.
Oddly it seems a lot of people I know have no idea what to do with the stuff. Granted, it is utterly horrible if you try to eat it raw. But once it’s cooked a bit and has some sugar added — well, okay a lot of sugar added, it’s delightful stuff. Well, to me at least. For a lot of people it is definitely an acquired taste, and one which some have no desire to acquire, I fear.
Rhubarb does have one “gotcha”, and that is it’s leaves. They are fairly high in oxalic acid, which can cause serious problems or even death if you eat enough of them. (I read that you’d have to eat something like 11 pounds of leaves to build up a fatal level of oxalic acid.) The stalks have very little oxalic acid so those are safe to eat. Some people have claimed that you can only eat rhubarb early in the season, and that after the plant has come to full maturity, the level of oxalic acid in the stalks rises and makes it dangerous to use. This is not true. It’s safe to eat the stalks all through the growing season. If you let the stalks get too thick, it becomes woody and even hollow. But if you harvest it regularly and only select the new growth the stalks will remain tender all season long.
You want a fast and easy way to make a sauce? Sure. Here you go:
Take about six or ten stalks and cut them into very small pieces. Put in a pan and add about a quarter cup of water. Turn up the heat until the water begins to bubble, then turn it down to low and let simmer. Stir every few minutes. After a very short time the pieces will begin to disintegrate and turn into a kind of pinkish mush. At this point throw in some sugar to taste. Start with a couple of tablespoons and taste, then add more as needed to get it to a level you like. Then serve hot, or throw it in the fridge.
What do you use it for? Put it on ice cream, use it on pancakes. Use it instead of strawberries on shortcake. Or use it with strawberries. The two go together very well indeed. I put it on cereal.