Bebop-a-Rhubarb

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Bebop-a-rhuba, spring rhubarb is here! Diner  waitresses are hip-checking pie cabinets, kids stop  hopscotching, and the milkman is grinning from ear to ear. What’s the  deal with rhubarb? Why does it taste like nostalgia? Perhaps it’s the recall  of its tart taste and green apple scent that flavors mishmash desserts  like buckle, crumble, or crisp. Or perhaps it’s just that rhubarb’s tannins  stimulate our saliva glands. Nurture or nature—you decide.

In ancient times, rhubarb came from the Volga River valley. In ancient  Greek, “rhe” means flow or river, and “bárbaros” means barbarian or  foreigner. It was prized in China and later Europe for its strong medicinal  effects in quelling many digestive ailments. By the 1600s, rhubarb fetched  10 times the price of cinnamon and twice that of opium. The root and the  leaf of rhubarb make up the medicine and are extremely toxic, containing  high levels of oxalate. It’s amazing anyone ever figured out that the  petiole (stem) when cooked was the delicious treat.

We’re seeing rhubarb in all regions right now because it flourishes in the  spring. It’s a plant that likes to grow in frost pockets with a fair amount of  moisture. Rhubarb is botanically a vegetable, but culturally it is a fruit—so  it’s quite content in the fruit and veggie TakeHome boxes.

Preparation: Rhubarb is super tart raw but reveals itself when cooked  with a bit of sweetener (avoid the thicker, greener stalks—they’re more  sour and coarse). Simply slice as you might celery, discarding any long  strings. Cook with a few tablespoons of water and honey or brown  sugar. The amount of sweetener depends on your palette. Rhubarb is  excellent in concert with strawberries (of course), pineapple, apples,  ginger, and raisins—fruits that will sweeten it. Rhubarb is low in fructose  and high in fiber.

Storage: Fresh rhubarb can be stored in a bag in your fridge for up to  a week. Freezing sliced rhubarb can allow it to last much longer (don’t  forget to wash it first!).

 

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