Rhubarb, though often paired with fruits in pies and sweet reductions, is actually not a fruit. It's a vegetable and a member of the buckwheat family. Its leaves are toxic and while its roots are used medicinally, only the stalks are used in common cooking. They can be quite tart when raw so are often cooked down with plenty of sugar.

Home gardeners love rhubarb because it grows easily in the garden year after year and its abundant harvest begins in early spring, making it one of the first harvests of the season.

The many varieties of rhubarb can be categorized into two main types: hothouse and field-grown. Grown in a greenhouse as the name implies, hothouse rhubarb is easier to find year-round in some places, but tends to be paler in both colour and flavour.

Field-grown rhubarb appears at the tail-end of winter, with its season peaking April to June. You can tell field-grown rhubarb apart from hothouse by its brighter colour and more pronounced flavour.

When buying fresh rhubarb, choose bright, glossy stalks with blemish-free leaves. Remove those leaves before storing and keep the stalks sealed tightly in a plastic bag. Rhubarb is highly perishable so try and eat it within three days of bringing it home from the store.

To prepare fresh rhubarb, cut and discard the bottom inch of the stalks, peeling away any tough and fibrous parts by gliding a paring knife under a small section of skin and stripping away the strings.

As a general buying guide, keep these conversions in mind:

1 pound fresh rhubarb = 3 cups rhubarb
12 ounce package frozen rhubarb = 1.5 cups rhubarb

How do you use rhubarb? Share your favourite ways in the comments below, and for more ideas, try these tested-till-perfect rhubarb recipes:

Easy Stewed Rhubarb
Rhubarb and Raspberry Galettes
Rhubarb Banana Crumble
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Rhubarb Fool

Tags: pies & tarts, spring


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