Rhubarb starts appearing at the market just about the same time as strawberries, making strawberry-rhubarb combinations a natural.
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but the U.S. Customs Court ruled in 1947 that rhubarb is a fruit, because it’s used mainly in sweetened dishes. The court was asked to rule because it was deciding if imported rhubarb would be taxed as a fruit or a vegetable, and fruits have lower duty rates.
Unfortunately, rhubarb doesn’t survive our summers. If you want to buy local rhubarb, you’ll have to move farther north. It thrives in colder climates, in places like Michigan and Vermont.
Rhubarb is valued for its tartness and its color. Stalks can range from bright crimson red to light pink. Some varieties grow green stalks. They taste much the same, but consumers favor the brightest red varieties.
Sometimes you’ll find a few bits of leaf still attached to the stalk. Those should be removed. Some people say they’re poisonous. It’s true that the leaves contain oxalic acid, but you’d have to eat several pounds to consume a lethal dose. Still, you should remove them because they add nothing to the taste of your finished dish.
Most of us eat rhubarb cooked, stewed with sugar or baked into a pie with strawberries. It’s also enjoyed as rhubarb jam and fresh rhubarb juice, a nice alternative for making “lemonade” and a gorgeous pink color besides.
When buying rhubarb, look for firm, glossy stalks. Wrapped loosely, they’ll keep for up to two weeks in your vegetable crisper.
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