Rheum rhubarbarum.

by Lisa Linderman on May 25, 2011

in baking,food crops,garden,recipe

Rheum rhubarbarum sounds like some character out of a bad space opera, but it’s the scientific name of rhubarb.  Just one of those weird little trivia tidbits that get lodged in the wrinkles in my brain, probably because I’ve always liked the sound of it.   And right now, rhubarb is on my mind!

Rhubarb plants

Three of my four monster rhubarb. That bed is 4 feet wide for scale.

About 10 years ago, when I got my first house with a yard, I planted a vegetable garden, including a small spindly rhubarb plant.  I didn’t know what rhubarb was for.  I’d never eaten rhubarb.  But I knew it was edible, and it had a cool name, and was supposedly easy to grow.  And it was inexpensive, and what the heck.  I planted it.  It grew.  Happily.  For two years, without me harvesting a single stalk…because I wasn’t really sure about it.  I’d walk by it and give it the hairy eyeball once in a while, as it started to look more and more like something out of Little Shop of Horrors.   I was mildly afraid it would grow pods, and then the neighborhood would be taken over by vegetable replicas of my neighbors.

And then one day, my mother in law saw it, and asked if she could have some of it.  “Um…sure.  What do you do with it?”  I didn’t even know how to harvest it, or how to tell if it was ripe.  She just ripped half a dozen stalks off at the base, and took it home and made a pie.  When we had dinner at her house later, my husband offered me a taste of his piece of pie, since I’d never had any.  I took a bite, and then took his plate and told him to go back and get himself a slice.  It’s amazing stuff for something that looks like red celery on growth hormones.

Since then, we’ve moved, and I transplanted my rhubarb.  I also split it, and now I have four giant alien mounds out living amongst the strawberries and asparagus.  It keeps us in ample rhubarb, which apparently you can’t get in parts of the country.  Alas for them!

Cast rhubarb leaves

Rhubarb leaves cast in concrete, for a future pond waterfall.

If you’ve never harvested rhubarb, here’s how to tell if it’s ripe:  Is the stalk big enough to use?  That’s pretty much it.  It’s always “ripe”.   To harvest it, grab a stalk down low and twist while you pull, to tear the entire stalk off at the base.  Discard the kind of woody base end, and remove and discard the leaf.  The leaves aren’t technically poisonous, but they contain extremely high levels of oxalic acid, which can damage your kidneys and stomach, and really is about the same as if they were poisonous. Don’t eat them.  Do make yard art with them.

And what to do with your rhubarb?  How about a buckle?  I’m rather fond of buckles, and I made this one the other day for my husband, to deal with the annual excess of rhubarb.

Rhubarb Ginger Buckle

¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, diced


1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup finely diced  candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter an 8 inch pan.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, beat until thoroughly mixed.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Add the dry ingredients and milk to the butter mixture, alternating dry with milk, and beat until smooth.

Pour the batter into the 8 inch pan, spread out to cover the bottom of the pan.  Distribute the rhubarb evenly over the batter.  It will probably cover most of the batter to the point of it being hidden, and that’s okay.

To make the topping, in a small bowl combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, grated ginger and diced ginger.  Add the cold butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is crumbly.  Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the rhubarb.

Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.  The center will remain very moist; a cake tester is not accurate for this dish.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Excellent with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

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