words by Shelley Wigglesworth | recipe by Karen J. Covey
Rhubarb is a tart, bitter, stalk vegetable that is commonly referred to as a fruit. It's a favorite in jams, jellies, and pies either as the main ingredient or combined with other fruit. It's also one of the earliest harvested vegetables in New England, acting as a sure sign of spring.
how to plant it:
Choose an area in full sun, that is well-drained, and has rich soil. Plant rhubarb crowns (not seeds) in the early spring when the roots are still dormant. You can also plant crowns before the last frost. Although the tops of the plant stalks and leaves may freeze, the base will produce new growth below the soil. Dig holes deep enough to cover the roots of the plant crowns about 2 inches below the ground. Space the plants about 2-3 feet apart and continue to water throughout the season until well rooted. New buds will push up through the soil as warmer weather arrives. Remove any flower stems that appear to ensure the plant energy stays in the crown area. It is best to not harvest any rhubarb during the first year of growth after planting in order for the plant to become hearty and established. Wait approximately 5-6 years before transplanting crowns.
how to harvest it:
When Rhubarb stalks are about a foot long, it's time to harvest. Cut the stalks at the base of the plant or twist gently at the base allowing the base and roots to stay undisturbed. Be sure to leave at least half of the stalks on the plants to ensure healthy future harvests. Rhubarb leaves are toxic so be sure to remove the leaves before washing, preparing, processing, or eating.
rhubarb + raisin relish
A quick relish that's perfect as an appetizer with a sharp cheddar and crackers, or slathered inside of a grilled cheese with mustard.
4 cups chopped rhubarb (about 6 large pieces)
1 large shallot, chopped
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup golden raisins
1. Place a plate in freezer (for testing consistency later).
2. In a medium Dutch oven, add rhubarb, shallot, sugar, vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes until mixture reaches a jam-like consistency (stir occasionally to make sure jam isn't sticking to bottom of pan). Test for doneness but placing a small amount on frozen plate (run a finger through middle of jam and if a trail remains, jam will set as it cools; if it puddles back together, keep cooking a bit longer). When ready, remove from heat and stir in raisins. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, spoon into jars, cover and keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups.
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