Rhubarb is one of those vegetables (and yes, it is a vegetable) that people either love or hate. If you love this vegetable, rhubarb pie is probably on your top 10 of favorite desserts.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a farm where you can pick your own, you might even find yourself eating some of the stalks straight out of the field.
Most of us will probably end up buying our rhubarb at the grocery store, and it can be tricky knowing when rhubarb is in season.
So, if you’re wondering “When is rhubarb in season?”, here’s what you should know.
Facts About Rhubarb
• Rhubarb is actually a vegetable (told you).
• Like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, it belongs to the genus Rheum, meaning “garden of God.”
• Most varieties come from Asia, although American farmers have begun growing it too.
• It grows best in cool temperatures and needs lots of sun.
When To Harvest
Hothouse rhubarb, also known as garden rhubarb, is the variety that we typically see in supermarkets during the springtime and are traditionally ‘in season’ between February and June.
This type of rhubarb grows best outdoors in cool climates, where temperatures don’t exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Field-grown rhubarb, on the other hand, is grown in warmer regions such as California.
Sugar pie rhubarb is another name for field-grown rhubarbs, and it’s usually found in farmers markets throughout the summer months.
Field-grown rhubarb isn’t just great for cooking; it’s also used to make jams, jellies, and sauces.
During the winter months, however, you’ll often find frozen rhubarb ready to go in the freezer aisle.
Frozen rhubarb is perfect for baking, and it doesn’t lose much flavor when cooked.
Growing Your Own
If you decide to take the plunge and grow your own rhubarb, you won’t be disappointed. They are pretty easy to grow and produce a substantial harvest.
So, how do you know when your rhubarb is ripe and ready to pick?
The ideal time to harvest is when the stalks are between seven and fifteen inches long, with the leaves having fully unfurled.
This is especially true for cooking purposes, where the longer the stalk, the sweeter the rhubarb becomes.
As far as eating goes, rhubarb is perfectly fine to pick early, but it doesn’t really improve in quality over time.
In fact, rhubarb tends to lose its sweetness over time, meaning that you might end up with undercooked, tasteless pieces.
So, what happens if you don’t harvest rhubarb at exactly the right moment? Well, it just grows back again!
You see, rhubarb likes to grow into large bushes, and it will continue doing so for several years without being harvested.
What does this mean for you?
Well, if you wait too long to harvest your rhubarb, you risk losing out on the opportunity to enjoy the sweetest parts of the season.
On the other hand, if you harvest too soon, you won’t reap the full benefits of the growing season.
How To Harvest
Harvesting rhubarb is easy once you learn how to do it. Simply grab a stalk just above the soil level and twist it toward the ground.
This will loosen it up enough to allow you to lift it out without breaking the roots. Then simply cut the stalk where it meets the soil.
If you have trouble getting the stalk loose, try twisting it toward the opposite direction.
Or, if you have a lot of rhubarb to harvest, look for the stalks that are already loosened up.
Rhubarb is typically a long stalky plant that looks a little like celery. Unlike celery, rhubarb does not grow in big bunches.
Instead, it grows one stalk per plant.
You can find it with or without leaves, though it is usually sold with leaves attached, because they help protect the tender stems.
If you buy rhubarb with leaves, make sure they look healthy.
They shouldn’t be wilted or browned. Look for firm stalks and white tips.
In general, the darker the color, the sweeter the rhubarb is likely to be.
However, there are many varieties of rhubarb, some of which are very tart while others are sweet enough to eat plain.
Some people enjoy eating rhubarb raw, while others prefer cooking it.
There are several ways to cook rhubarb, including boiling, steaming, baking, sautéing, broiling, roasting, grilling, and stir frying.
For best results, cut away the tough stem end of each stalk and discard it. Then wash the stalks well under running water.
Rhubarb freezes well, making it a good addition to the winter months.
If you’ve got some stalks that can be used but aren’t quite ready to be eaten, chop them up and store them in the freezer.
This way, you won’t have to throw out perfectly good produce.
Follow these steps for effective freezing:
Rhubarb needs to be cleaned well because it contains oxalic acid, which can cause severe health problems if consumed.
Oxalic acid is found mainly in the stems, leaves, and roots of plants. You can wash rhubarb thoroughly under running water.
This removes dirt and debris, but does not affect the flavor.
Next, you want to discard the leaves and woody ends, since they are tough and bitter. To clean rhubarb, place it into a large bowl filled with cold water.
Submerge the stalks and leaves for 5 minutes. Then lift out the rhubarb, drain it, and dry it completely.
Arrange the stalks parallel to each other on a cutting board.
Using a sharp, long-bladed knife, such as a chef’s knife, cut the stalks into ¼- to ½-inch pieces as it’s easier to handle when it comes out of the freezer.
Blanching is the process of briefly cooking vegetables in boiling water. This causes the vegetable cells to burst open and release starch into the water.
The goal of blanching is to soften the vegetable without overcooking it.
If you blanch too long, however, the texture becomes mushy and the color fades. To prevent this, start counting down once the water begins to simmer.
Once the time is up, drain the rhubarbs and plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process. This should soften the rhubarb, making it easier to cook.
Place cut (and blanched if desired) rhubarb on a parchment lined baking sheet and flash freeze.
This process helps preserve the color of the fruit and keeps it firmer.
Once frozen, transfer rhubarb to a freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
The best way to store rhubarb if you’re not freezing it is to cut off and discard any leaves that are attached to the stalk.
Then, wrap the stalks tightly in plastic wrap or reusable storage bags and place them in the refrigerator.
You’ll find rhubarb to keep well for about three days.
Rhubarb is one of those vegetables that seems like it should taste good raw, but you really do need to cook it down a little due to its bitter taste.
If you want to use it in pies, jams, compotes, or anything else, start by cutting off the ends and peeling the stalks.
Then, wash them well and cut into pieces about 2 inches long. You can either boil them whole or slice them lengthwise into thin strips.
The best way to cook rhubarb is to steam it over boiling water. Put the stalks in a large pot and cover with cold water.
Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the stalks and follow the recipe.
Rhubarb has a tart flavor that goes great with sweet fruits. It also works well in savory dishes, especially when paired with cheese.
The key is to make sure you buy fresh, local rhubarb whenever possible.
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