The First Rhubarb of the Year

Rhubarb Bush

One of the joys of the temperate climate is that mysterious plant called rhubarb. Its origins go back almost five millennia – the Chinese used it for its medicinal properties, but it also grows thickly on the banks of the Volga.

Growing up in Israel, with a mother who had grown up in the rocky, arid mountains of Jerusalem, rhubarb was not on my radar. While it does grow in Israel, it’s really not eaten much there. My British-born husband planted a rhubarb bush in our yard when we bought this house back in 1994, but I never paid it much attention until a few years ago, when I started to get interested in local food and traditional recipes.

rhubarbWhen harvesting rhubarb, remember that only the stalks are edible. The root has been used for medicinal purposes, but as it is quite a strong laxative, I would not recommend eating it. The leaves are full of oxalic acid, and again are not recommended for eating. Some people use the leaves against ants in the garden – we have not found them very effective, but maybe we are doing it wrong. If you have a method that works, please share!

Rhubarb recipe

When looking for rhubarb recipes, I found this one to be quick, easy and amazingly yummy, especially with home-made vanilla ice cream. If you have difficulty reading it, click on the picture to see a bigger version. It’s from Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. The title is hilarious but the recipes are really, really good.

Sally Fallon is the founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit organisation devoted to bringing back traditional foods and food arts. It’s not really a paleo or even primal kind of approach as it is firmly rooted in the agricultural revolution – grains are soaked before use, but they are used. Dairy should be raw if possible, of highest quality under the circumstances if not. Fruit and vegetables should be fresh and organic, local if possible. Meat should be grass-finished, chickens and eggs pastured, and fish wild-caught. Doesn’t it sound like a wonderful world?

Most of those options are available right here in Manitoba. Local farmers will sell you fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and local honey, while fish from our inland sea here and other lakes is guaranteed to be wild-caught.

Raw milk, unfortunately, is illegal here, while Slurpees are available on every street corner. I would love to see an actual study showing the health effects of both beverages over time, but it’s unlikely to happen – there isn’t much money to be made in real food. But it is important to realise that we are not prisoners of the agro-industrial complex, that we can make our own choices. Good food is not as expensive as they would have you think, especially in the summer.

One easy and inexpensive way to get more real food into our lives is to grow it and cook it ourselves. If you don’t have much space, you can put some herbs or a tomato plant on your window sill. Strawberries do well in hanging baskets, which have the added advantage of being out of the reach of bunnies.

If it is too much trouble to pick your own fruit, there’s always Fruit Share!

How do you enhance your life with local fruit from your garden?

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4 Responses to “The First Rhubarb of the Year”

  1. Peter Wright Says:

    Being British born of British parents, I ate more than enough rhubarb as a child to last several lifetimes.

    I developed such a dislike for it, that I have not eaten it since escaping parental control.

    Selfishly, I wish it had stayed on the banks of the Volga or in the depths of Manchuria.

    Here in Ontario, it has been available at farm stalls for 3 weeks already.

    As the son of a dairy farmer, I drank huge quantities of unpasteurised milk and cream straight from the separator spout. Didn’t kill me.
    Peter Wright recently posted…A Shining Example of Overcoming AdversityMy Profile

  2. Hadass Eviatar Says:

    Oh Peter, I love you. Depths of Manchuria indeed.

    Spring is very late this year and has been quite chilly. While that saved us from flooding, it does mean everything is very late.

    If I ever have the honour and pleasure of hosting you here, maybe I’ll be able to change your mind about rhubarb. Maybe not. Don’t let the prospect keep you away!

  3. Natalie Says:

    Ah my days as a farmwife! Rhubarb is generally just past it’s peak about the time the strawberries are just starting to produce and so a June dish was anything Rhuberry, i.e. part strawberry and part rhubarb depending on which part was more available. I would make Rhuberry jam, pies, sauces and juice. One more tip, rhubarb is ridiculously easy to freeze. Slice stalks into smaller pieces and pop them in a freezer quality container and that’s it. You can pull rhubarb out of the freezer and use it in any cooking dish over the rest of the year.

  4. Hadass Eviatar Says:

    Thanks, Natalie! Looking forward to strawberry season, although last year we blinked and missed it. I hope it is a little longer this year.

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