Friday, May 20, 2011

Rhubarb Days

(Blogger doesn't seem to want to do paragraph breaks today, possibly because there's a storm?  I apologize.)  
Several days ago I complained here that heritage breeds of chickens are not very productive. The same, I am pleased to say, does not apply to rhubarb.  
Apparently, the rhubarb transplants that you get in nurseries have been hybridized, and produce just a few meager stalks a season. But “heritage” rhubarb, the kind you find growing around old barns, is another matter.  
Three years ago, a friend gave me some heritage rhubarb plants that were taking over her vegetable garden. It took a sharp shovel and quite a bit of muscle to extract the gnarled roots from the soil. When I got home, too tired to offer them TLC, I stuck them in the ground between the vegetable garden and the back wall of the house. I threw some dirt over them and left them to their own devices. A few days later I noticed that Wolfie, who was entering adolescence at the time, had dug up some of the roots and chewed on them. I shook my finger at him, retrieved the roots, put them back in their holes, and forgot about them.  
Next spring, I noticed some fierce-looking red bulbous growths pushing up through the melting now—it was the rhubarb. All five plants had survived my neglect and the rigors of winter, and went on to give me all the stalks that I needed, and more to give away.  
With each passing year, the harvest grew. This spring, after the third snowiest winter in recorded history, the rhubarb has achieved barbarous proportions. The plants, which I had planted four feet apart, now overlap each other. The bottom leaves are over two-feet wide, their stems as thick as Wolfie's front legs.  
Not only am I freezing and giving away rhubarb as fast as I can cut it, but I have found a new use for those huge, poisonous leaves: after separating them from the stems, I layer them in pairs and slap them down on the perennial garden, to keep the mints and other offenders from choking off the Echinacea and the Black-Eyed Susans. The rhubarb leaves work almost as well as newspaper, and look a lot more natural.  
Today I harvested and froze thirteen quarts of sliced rhubarb. Thanks to the food processor that my daughter gave me for my birthday, the task this time did not take all afternoon, though it did necessitate my wearing ear protectors. 
But the rhubarb had the last word: on the front of my purple t-shirt, against which, as I harvested, I had pressed the leaves and stems, the oxalic acid in the leaves had eaten away the dye in the cloth, and left indelible reddish stains that will forever scream je me souviens.  
(For those of you who are not from around here, je me souviens [I remember] is the motto of nearby Quebec.)

13 comments :

  1. what do you do with all that rhubarb? it can't all go to pies.

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  2. I don't grow rhubarb, but I must say, it's crazy how gigantic my lettuce grew this spring. And peas. And radishes. My most successful spring planting yet (I even have carrots, for the very first time, real carrot seedling thingies growing everywhere!).

    What do you do with 13 quarts of sliced rhubarb?

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  3. I give it to my daughter, who keeps her family in pies, and I make rhubarb bread, six loaves at a time, which uses a total of four quarts of rhubarb. And this week I'll be giving some to the local food bank.

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  4. If I need rhubarb, I will call you. I know I have some good cocktail recipes somewhere...

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  5. Boil the stems with sugar to make a sauce that sweetens plain yogurt. Can be frozen to keep for years...but you'll need to use it up before next year's stems come due.

    I'm thinking of planting a rhubarb forest to take over the suburban lawn in the front yard. The one we have growing in back is monstrous.

    Can the leaves be used for compost or layered on the garden in the fall, or will they poison my veggies?

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  6. Alison, a rhubarb forest would be beautiful and carefree. I use the leaves as mulch for ornamentals--don't know whether enough oxalic acid would seep into the veggies to do some harm.

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  7. Rhubarb leaves lose toxicity very quickly as they decay - they are perfectly safe for compost and mulch.

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  8. My moth grew rhubarb. I wasn't a fan, until I found a Jamie Oliver pork and rhubarb recipe. I much prefer it in savory dishes.

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  9. Mali, rhubarb and pork sound like a perfect pair, the rhubarb's acidity mitigating the pork's fattiness, and the pork sweetening the rhubarb.

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  10. http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/recipes

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