Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rhubarb: Harvest, Eat, Drink & Be Merry.

My tomatoes may not be planted yet but my rhubarb is ready to be eaten.

How does one know when rhubarb is ready? Well, generally you know its ready to be picked when the plant is so huge it starts to look cramped. If the under leaves don't have anywhere to grow and yellow before they mature that means you need to get on with pulling the stalks already. Oh and it's spring, rhubarb can be harvested from spring, once its full grown, through summer...that is if you aren't sick of it by the end of summer.

If you have never done it before, harvesting rhubarb is really easy, I promise.  As soon as it is grown you can harvest it. Don't worry if the stalks are not bright red, they can be pink or even a bit green, that has more to do with the age of the plant than it's edibility (that is my understanding anyway, someone please correct me if I am wrong). My rhubarb has never been all bright and red like the stuff you get at the farmers market, but it tastes the same. You do want it to be firm, don't pull the flimsy guys, they aren't ready yet. Also, Rhubarb should not be pulled the first year, as it needs time to dig in its roots.

You can harvest up to half of your plant at one time but not more! As with all veggies, the more often you harvest the bigger and fuller it will get it. I harvested this weekend and I'll probably be able to do so again within two weeks.

To actually harvest the stalks, grip near the base of the stalk and move it around in a bit of circle to loosen it while firmly pulling up. The stalks should pull out with a nice "pop" sound and be fully intact. Broken stalks can cause infection to the plant, so make sure to get any of the broken bits out if the stalks don't come out nice and clean. Here is a little video I took on my phone so you can see how to pull out the stalks nice and clean.

Cut off the leaves, they are poisonous! and trim the ends. That's all there is to it! Am I forgetting anything? Do you have any questions about this process that I haven't answered? Here is the bounty of my first harvest, nearly a whole sink full. As you can see in this photo I have trimmed the leaves but I have NOT cut off the ends yet.

The next question is obviously, what to do with it? And truly the options are endless. I've made crisps and cobblers and jams and chutneys. I try and find new ideas regularly, which is why I decided this time around that I would make a Rhubarb Liqueur. Yeah, I know, delicious...if you like that kind of stuff. 

Here is the part where I share the details, should you also be interested in making some Rhubarb Liquor.
1. Fill a quart size mason jar with chopped up rhubarb.
2.  Mix 6 tbs of sugar and 1/4 cup of water on the stove over medium heat until it becomes sugar water.
3. Pour the sugar water over the rhubarb.
4. Add 1 cup of Vodak and 1/2 cup of Grand Mariner (which is an orange liquor) to the mason jar.
5. There was still a bit of room left over at this point so I topped off the jar with a little Vanilla Vodka.

Let it sit out at room temperature and in about three weeks time the rhubarb will have broken down and/or the color will have leached out of it. You can then strain it and get to mixing it with your favorite summer drink. Go ahead and shake the jar every so often, it should help it break down a little quicker.
(7/2/2012 - Update - You can see the final product here.)

Believe it or not, I still had more rhubarb so I made some compote to go with our French Toast on Sunday morning.

To make compote all you have to do is throw chopped up rhubarb in a pot, cover it with sugar and cook it over medium heat until it turns to mush. Rhubarb is crazy tart so you will have to add more sugar than seems healthy, but you can always add it in small batches until you like the sweet-to-tart ratio. When we still had left over compote after finishing breakfast I put the last of t in a small mason jar and threw it in the freezer. Compote is good for pie filing, over ice cream and makes a yummy addition to french toast or pancakes. 

Have you made anything with rhubarb lately? What is your favorite rhubarb recipe?

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