June 5, 2012

Rhubarb, Anyone?



     One of the delights of our month in Heuvelton, New York, was a patch of ripening rhubarb behind the shed in my late brother-in-law’s home.

At least it was a delight for Monte, who makes his own rhubarb pie and rhubarb sauce. As for me, I’m not a rhubarb fan.

We were in Heuvelton to clear up Monte’s brother’s estate. Monte was Elwin’s executor, and we had to deal with the contents of Elwin’s house and sell the house and the car. In the midst of this challenging task, which included an auction, Monte enjoyed fresh rhubarb. The day after the auction he hosted the Holland family reunion at the house, during which he and three of his nieces made a rhubarb pie for the festivities (the recipe they used is typed in at the end of this post). One of the nieces made an apple pie for me…

Back home one resident allowed Monte to pick the rhubarb she didn’t use because she disliked it. However, that is not the norm. Monte can’t understand why people who grow rich yields of rhubarb on their property, but don’t like it, won’t offer the crop to persons who do like it.

Several days later we met with Monte’s two remaining sisters for his brother in law’s birthday. Dessert: blueberry-rhubarb pie. The group concluded that older persons like rhubarb while the younger generation doesn’t have a taste for it. A newspaper article seemed to confirm this:

Sam Wiseman associates rhubarb with nostalgia.

“It’s such an old-fashioned crop,” she says. (Sam is short for Samantha.) “A lot of people remember it from their youth, seeing their grandmothers grow it in the garden.” What’s more, rhubarb plants can have a long life. “Some people say that they’re still growing their grandmother’s rhubarb.”1

I must note here that our son, Nolan, is an exception. Recently, while in Munich, Germany, he emailed Monte requesting his recipe for rhubarb pie. According to Nolan, they don’t make pie in Germany, where the rhubarb was flourishing. He also wanted to make an apple pie for his friends and colleagues.

Just what is rhubarb?

…don’t call it a fruit. “It might look like red celery,” writes Sheri Castle in her book “The New Southern Garden Cookbook,” “but rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family and a close relative of sorrel and dock, which might explain why it is so sour.”2

WARNING: Rhubarb leaves should be cut off and discarded—they are poisonous!

The classic affinity for tart rhubarb is, of course, strawberry. Monte will occasionally make a strawberry-rhubarb pie. But rhubarb also pairs well with other sweet ingredients—1 like the blueberries or bananas.

In Heuvelton, where we didn’t have cable television, the Canadian station from Kingston hosts two cooking shows each afternoon. On May 15 one show (I think it is called All About Eating) featured rhubarb.

The hostess explained that, in general, color doesn’t indicate rhubarb ripeness or tartness. It comes in varieties ranging from green to deep-red, and some is speckled or has graduations of color. What does matter? That the stalks are firm and that they have relatively shiny skin. Additionally, avoid rhubarb stalks with ends that show signs of drying out.

She also explained about the use of three ingredients she used in making a rhubarb crumble (ingredients Monte uses in his pies):

  • Sugar draws the water out of the rhubarb
  • Flour thickens the sauce
  • Sugar draws out the water from the rhubarb
  • Fruit cuts the tartness of rhubarb3

Although Monte only uses rhubarb to make pies and sauce, there are limitless uses for the plant. It can flavor side dishes, perk up sauces for meat or fish, and even be pickled for use in a colorful salad.1 How about a roast pork with a sweet-tart rhubarb sauce? Or perhaps the same sauce with duck?2

Perhaps you live in an area that celebrates rhubarb with a festival. If so, attend and enjoy the efforts of those who enjoy cooking with rhubarb. Who knows—maybe you will discover you truly like it.


RHUBARB CREAM PIE (this recipe Monte used for the family reunion came from an undated issue of the Greensburg Tribune-Review)

Field-grown rhubarb is preferred over hot-house varieties for a more pronounced tast. The recipe is from Jill Wolf.

1 ½ cups sugar, more for sprinkling over pie

3 tablespoons flour

¾ teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs, well-beaten

3 cups cut up rhubarb, mixed with a little flour

Pastry for double 9-inch pie crust

Cream, for brushing top crust

Blend the sugar, flour, nutmeg and butter.

Add the eggs to the mixture and beat until smooth. Add the rhubarb and gently stir it in.

Pour into a 9-inch pastry-lined pie pan. Place the top pastry over the filling and seal the edges together. Cut slits in the top crust for steam to escape.

Brush lightly with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 10 minutes in 450-degree oven, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.



‘Find the Herb & Spice’ Quiz

The Flamingo, A Pizza, and a Big Bad Dragon

Oil Cooking Fires in the Kitchen

The Dandelion War Continues: April 2012

Carolyn’s Compositions Top Twelve Posts (April 2012)




3 Canadian Broadcasting Company afternoon cooking show May 15, 2012



  1. !!!!!! YUM !!!!!!!!

    Comment by Joan — June 7, 2012 @ 6:50 am | Reply

  2. David and I were talking about rhubarb last week (are we on the same wave-length or what??). I remember my grandfather growing rhubarb in his garden (he was in his 80’s at the time), and having rhubarb sauce and pie when I was a child. Needless to say I developed a craving. So,early this week off I went to the grocery store and bought some stalks, looked up the recipe given to my mother by a long-time friend, and made a small pie. David took one bite, and declared an immediate distaste. It didn’t taste as good as I remember it when I was growing up. But, does anything ever taste the way you think it did when you were younger?. I decided fresh grown is likely much better. I never would have thought to pair it with blueberries, so I’ll have to give it a try if I ever make rhubarb pie again. Monte’s recipe is very similar to the one I used, except I mixed half of the sugar with tapioca instead of flour, stirred this into the rhubarb and let it sit for 15-20 minutes to draw out the juices.

    Comment by Pam — June 8, 2012 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

    • We’re home, we’re exhausted, we’re piled under another carload of “stuff.” We had a couple of stalks of rhubarb from the plant beside our patio. Monte planted three starters dug from his brother Elwin’s crop, and they seem to be doing well.

      We must be on the same wave length…Monte would love to sample your rhubarb pie, but make Dave and me an apple pie!

      Perhaps you could try planting a rhubarb plant. If ours get going we can send you a starter plant.

      Your older and wiser sis, Carolyn

      Comment by carolyncholland — June 12, 2012 @ 6:19 am | Reply

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