A Passion for Rhubarb
By Marcia Passos Duffy

Not everyone is enamored by the
sweet/sour taste of rhubarb in recipes
(that requires a lot of sugar to counterbalance the tart rhubarb taste).  But I love
it.  But before we moved to our New Hampshire home over a decade ago I
barely knew what rhubarb looked like, never mind pick it and use it in a

The former owner of our home (and, by the way, the only owner of the house
built in 1932) must have had a remarkable passion for rhubarb because it was
placed in conspicuous locations throughout the yard, like prized ornamental

One avid gardening friend, seeing the position of the rhubarb in my yard,
gasped and said with desperation, “Transplant them, as soon as you can!  They’
ll take over!”  I did remove the very large plant that was smack dab in the
middle of the yard (or rather, I removed some of it and we mowed over the
rest), but we still grow enough rhubarb in various corners of our 1/3 of an acre
to satisfy my rhubarb cravings.  And she was right: It does take over.

My use of our yard’s bountiful rhubarb in recipes started when  I handed a
neighbor a bundle of rhubarb to get rid of it, and she later handed me a recipe
for Rhubarb Coffeecake.  “I just love those tart pieces of rhubarb surrounded by
the sweet cake,” she confided.  And, when I made the recipe, I did too.  

Rhubarb is thought of (and used in recipes) as a fruit, but it’s actually a
vegetable and is related to the sorrel family.  It’s an old plant, and has been
cultivated for over 5000 years ago in China and used for medicinal purposes.  

Googling the history of rhubarb on the Web I found that rhubarb made its way
West through Turkey and Russia and was first planted in England in 1777.  In
the U.S. it made its debut in Maine by an unnamed gardener who got seed or
root stock from Europe sometime between 1790-1800.  It was then introduced to
growers in Massachusetts where its popularity spread and by 1822 it was sold
in produce markets; its super-tart taste made it popular in jams, jellies and
sauces, as well as a popular recipe called Rhubarb Crumble.

The rhubarb stalk can be cooked, or eaten raw with some people dipping raw
stalks in sugar to remove some of the tartness.  Only the stalks can be eaten
because the leaves are poisonous (they contain potassium oxalate, which can be
fatal to people who are sensitive to oxalic acids).  But if you’re into using
natural dyes, don’t throw those poisonous leaves into the compost pile, since
they can be boiled and used to turn fiber a lovely sage green.  

Click below for recipes for:

My Neighbor’s Rhubarb Coffee Cake Recipe
Traditional Rhubarb Crumble
Rhubarb Strawberry Coffee Cake
Rhubarb Clafouti
Cold Rhubarb Tea

About the author: Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer and publisher of The Heart
of New England online magazine.  
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