One of the things I love about growing food is that my kids get to experience the full spectrum of local, in-season eating -- the waiting, the watching, the harvesting and the eating. Ever since we discovered the pleasures of rhubarb last year, Jack has been eyeing up rhubarb row, waiting for the time when we can once again pick some fresh 'barb.
While asking the children to help me dig up weeds is like pulling teeth, it was lovely to see them embrace the task of leafing through the rhubarb patch in search of the most tender and ruby-red stalks.
The is just the first of many, many baskets.
The kids asked if they could eat the stalks raw, to which I replied, "sure!" What I didn't tell them was just how tart and tongue twisting it tastes!
As they chewed, they scrunched up their faces like they'd been sucking lemons. It didn't take long before they spat out their mouthfuls and declared that while they both liked rhubarb baked "in things", raw was just "gross."
This easy-to-grow perennial can be quite prolific, so I've been on the lookout for recipes that will make the most of our delicious bounty.
I recently found one for rhubarb cinnamon muffins, made with whole wheat flour and two cups of diced rhubarb. They're a lovely not-too-sweet afternoon snack, tasting more bread-like than muffin-like, and studded with chunks of rhubarb that deliver its unmistakable tangy smack.
I also found a new recipe for rhubarb crisp (Jack's favourite); one that has the oatmeal crust on both the top and bottom. This recipe takes four cups of rhubarb and I'm going to try freezing several trays of it to enjoy later in the year.
But this season's greatest taste-tingling surprise was rhubarb juice -- a delicious twist on the traditional pie/crisp arrangement.
If you like the tartness of rhubarb, you'll love the puckery pleasure of this juice. It's a concentrate, with a 1:1 mix ratio, which we've added to water, orange juice and even ginger ale for a bubbly treat. I'm sure it would make a lovely addition to a tonic-based cocktail, too.
Here's the recipe for basic rhubarb juice concentrate:
• 12 cups sliced rhubarb (1" slices) (yes, 12 cups!)
• 4 cups water
• 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1.) In a large stainless steel pot, combine rhubarb and water.* Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes.**
2.) Transfer to a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth over a deep bowl. If you don't have a strainer handy, raid your husband's workshop for clamps and attach the cheesecloth directly to the pot. We're really high tech around here. (Those clamps are cleaner than they look.)
Let drip undisturbed for about 2 to 3 hours, or until all the liquid has drained.
3.) In a clean stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb juice and sugar. Heat to dissolve sugar but do not boil. Remove from heat and skim off foam.
At this point, you can choose to can the juice (ed. update: via boiling-water canner), but I left one jar in the fridge and froze the second one in a few smaller plastic yogurt containers. It's a delicious, vitamin-packed way to capture one of spring's earliest seasonal pleasures. Enjoy!
* If you want to make "Sunshine" rhubarb juice, add the grated zest of one lemon and one orange.
** Once you remove from heat, add juice from one lemon and one orange.
P.S. No post would be complete without a new duckling photo. We're up to four now. Yep, four.