Friday, March 23, 2012


My Story 
My sister Wendy gave me my rhubarb starts.  Her rhubarb is a strawberry rhubarb that has a beautiful red color.

This memory or story goes back to when I was married to Ed.  He did not like sweets so I seldom fixed any dessert.  When we lived in Long Beach, our home had some rhubarb growing in the backyard so I decided to harvest it and make a rhubarb pie.  It was the first rhubarb pie I had ever made.  Apparently it turned out.  Ed loved it and ate the whole pie asking me to make another.  It was his first taste of rhubarb. 

Rhubarb is the plant named for the many different species (about 70) of Rheum. It originated in Asia, in particular China and Tibet, with the earliest records relating to its use dating back to 2700BC when it was mainly cultivated for medicinal purposes.  It is believed that by the 1500s it was being used in Europe for its medicinal properties.  One of the first records found of its culinary use in Europe dates back to 1608.   By the early 1800s it was introduced to and widely used in the United States.
Rhubarb is a great source of lutein, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, plus a half a cup of rhubard has around two grams of fiber.  Rhubarb is 95 percent water and contains a fair source of  potassium, contributes minor amounts of vitamins, and is low in sodium.  One cup diced rhubarb contains about 26 calories.  Rhubarb's crisp sour stalks are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and calcium although the calcium is combined with oxalic acid and so is not easily absorbed by the body.  Rhubarb is somewhat acidic but in most recipes this is normally offset by sugar.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 - 8. Rhubarb can be grown as an annual in climates with mild winters.  Iowa is in hardiness zone 5.

Exposure: Full sun. The red and yellow varieties will not attain full color without full sun.
The main harvest season is spring. Smaller harvests may continue throughout the summer, weather permitting,
Rhubarb is a big, leafy plant, growing 2-3 feet wide and tall. It is grown for its leaf stalks, but makes a beautiful, ornamental plant, especially the red and yellow varieties. Many people prefer the red varieties for their taste and tenderness, although the green varieties tend to be a bit more productive than the red.
Only the stalks are edible. The leaves themselves are toxic and are removed at harvesting. The leaves contain a substance called oxalic acid crystals, which are toxic and can result in poisoning. (You can toss the leaves in the compost pile though.) NOTE: Rhubarb damaged by frost may become inedible. If the stems are not firm and upright, don’t eat them. Frost damage can cause the oxalic acid crystals to move into the stalks. You can compost rhubarb leaves, even though they are slightly toxic if ingested. The oxalic acid crystals dissipate in the soil long before they are absorbed by other plants.
Rhubarb does best in cooler climates, since it requires temperatures below 40 F. to break dormancy and stimulate bud growth. Rhubarb can be grown as an annual in warmer areas that get some winter cold if you start seeds in the late summer / fall and plant out early the following spring. But too much heat causes rhubarb to have thin stalks and leaves.
Planting: Usually grown from purchased crowns (rhizomes and buds). You can divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) or even start them from seed, although they might not grow true to color.  Any well drained, rich soil. Prefers a slightly alkaline soil - pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Since you’re growing it for the foliage and it has a sort season, you want a soil high in organic matter, to support quick spring growth. Care should be taken when preparing the rhubarb bed, since the plants will be there for quite awhile after.

Space rhubarb crowns every 3 - 4 feet in rows about 3 feet apart. If planted too closely, the plants will grow smaller and less productive.

Remove flower stalks as soon as they appear. Flower stalks are rounder, thicker and taller than leaf stalks. If allowed to mature and flower, the leaf stalks will be thinner.

Rhubarb does not like competition from weeds. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch will suppress weeds as well as help conserve water.


Fresh rhubarb should be trimmed of all leaf material, wrapped in cling film and refrigerated when it will keep for 2-3 weeks. When ready to use, prepare as per individual recipes. Fresh rhubarb can also be preserved as a jam, conserve, or relish.

To freeze, choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks. Wash, trim and cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces in lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, cool quickly in cold water to retain color and flavor, drain well and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Seal, label and freeze. Alternatively, pack cooked rhubarb as above lightly into containers and cover with cold 50-percent syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water). Freeze as above.


As with most perennial crops, don’t harvest the first year. Allow the plant to hold onto its leaves and build its strength. 

You can take a small harvest the second year. Harvest stalks that are at least 1" thick and leave the rest. During the 3rd year, you can harvest for about 1 month. After the 3rd year, you can harvest whenever there are stalks ready for picking. Plants can remain productive for 8 to 15 years, unless affected by pests or diseases. To harvest, cut the stalks at the soil line or pull out individual stalks as needed. You can harvest the whole crop at the same time or harvest in succession over a 4-6 week period.

As the temperature warms, growth slows and may even go dormant, but will resume in fall as temperatures fall.

Dividing Rhubarb: To divide rhubarb, dig the root mass and divide the crown between buds or eyes, into pieces about 2" long, with roots attached. You can divide in spring or fall, but it’s easier in spring, when the plant is coming out of dormancy and growing new roots.

Winter Protection: Rhubarb needs a period of cold to remain productive. A layer of mulch over the bed, once the ground freezes, will protect the roots from drying out. Otherwise, the plants should be fine on their own.

Maintenance: Plants will need to be divided or trimmed every 4-5 years. You will notice the stalks getting thinner as the crown becomes overgrown and crowded. When this happens, either divide or trim the crown to 4-5 buds.

Problems: Rhubarb has very few problems. Crowns may rot in wet soil.

‘Foot rot’ is a more serious crown rot caused by a fungus. Foot rot will spread to other plants. Destroy any affected plants and allow the planting area to dry. You may need to relocate the bed.

Black spots on the stems are probably rhubarb curculio, a type of beetle.

Rhubarb Recipes

Rhubarb Cheesecake    
For the base
5 oz plain flour 
3 oz sugar 
4 oz butter 

For the filling
13 oz fresh rhubarb, chopped 
4 oz  sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 lb cream cheese 
2 eggs

For the topping
9 oz sour cream 
1oz sugar 
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour,  sugar and  butter. Mix until crumbly then press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan.  Set aside.

In a another mixing bowl, toss together the chopped rhubarb, sugar and 2 tablespoons flour. Pour onto the prepared crust in the springform pan, spreading evenly and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to  350 degrees. 

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and  sugar together until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Pour over hot rhubarb in the tin then bake for 30 minutes, or until set.

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the topping.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven after the cooking time and cover with sour cream topping while still hot. Serves 8-10 

Rhubarb Custard Bars

I fix this recipe more than any other rhubarb recipe I have.


1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, 1 stick, room temperature


1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. flour

4 eggs beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

4-5 cups rhubarb

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a  9x13 inch pan with cooking spray.
Crust:  Blend flour and sugar together;  cut in the butter with a fork or pastry blender. Press crust into a 9x13 inch baking pan that has been sprayed with a cooking spray. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Prepare filling while crust is baking.
Filling:  In a large mixing bowl blend sugar and flour; add eggs, vanilla, and rhubarb and blend well. Pour mixture over partially baked crust and continue baking for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm or cooled. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.
Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

2 pounds of strawberries (4 cups mashed)
2 pounds rhubarb (8 cups of 1/2 inch pieces)
6 cups sugar

Wash fruit.  Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.  Cover rhubarb with 1/2 of sugar and let stand 1 to 2 hours.  Crush berries and mix with remaining sugar and combine with rhubarb.  Place mixture over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Boil rapidly stirring frequently to prevent burning.  Cook until thick.  Pour into sterilized jars to within 1/3 inch of top.  Screw band firmly tight.  Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.  Yield 5 pints. 

Rhubarb Pineapple Jam

7 pounds rhubarb (22 cups)
2 medium pineapples (8 cups)
6 cups sugar

Wash fruit.  Chop  rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add half the sugar and cook 15 minutes.  Add remaining sugar and simmer, stirring often until thick.  Pour into sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of top.  Screw band firmly tight.  Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.  Yield 12 pints. 

Easy Rhubarb Jam

5 cups diced rhubarb

1 small can crushed pineapple (drained)

2 cups sugar

Mix and let stand 2 hours, then boil 12 minutes, remove from heat add 1 small package strawberry Jello stir and jar or put in plastic containers, and refrigerate.  This also freezes well.

Rhubarb Jam
2 1/2 lb. rhubarb

1 1/2 lb. sugar

1/2 cup water

2 oranges (use both the rind & juice)

Wash and skin the rhubarb and cut into small pieces; add sugar and 1/2 cup of cold water. Grate the rind of the oranges and add to the rhubarb. Add the orange juice and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

I'll share you more rhubarb recipes tomorrow.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.    

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