Pucker up for this vegetable in fruit’s clothing!
Cultivated in China as a medicinal crop, rhubarb became an important European commodity by the 17th century when it out priced such highly valuable crops as cinnamon and opium. Varieties destined for the plate were developed as ingredients for savory meat stews and drinks in the Middle East. The 19th century brought rhubarb to New England and into many of the desserts that we treasure today. The tangy, earthy flavor of rhubarb is well paired with strawberries or raspberries, citrus, cinnamon and honey. In climates with cold winters and cool growing season, rhubarb is a hearty field crop that suffers little from pest damage or disease. This quirky vegetable, is usually the first “fruit” of the season. Rhubarb ranges in color from deep ruby red to a mossy green. Color does not indicate ripeness or quality—merely offers colorful diversity to its fans.
Rhubarb should not be sold with its leaves because they contain high concentrations of oxalic acid which is poisonous to people. The stalks contain significantly lower levels but to avoid any health risk, it should never be consumed raw. Choose stalks that are firm with a glossy finish. Avoid any thick stalks, as they may be fibrous or tough. Trim off any leaves before wrapping in plastic and storing in the refrigerator for up to a week. Trim off any rough edges or brown spots before cooking.