This is the truth about rhubarb that only a farmer would know: nobody wants any until the strawberry crop comes in.
Creedmoor farmer Mark Lyon of Lyon Farms has been growing rhubarb for about 10 years and selling it at the Durham and Carrboro farmers market as well as his farm stands. Despite having it for sale all winter, Lyon said his customers don’t really buy it until the strawberries arrive.
That’s because strawberries and rhubarb are a classic flavor combination in jam, pie and more.
Strawberries are how Lyon made his mark as a young farmer on his family’s land.
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Lyon, 59, is the fourth generation to farm the 360 acres in Creedmoor that his family has owned since the late 1800s. While at N.C. State University, Lyon said he would hear fraternity brothers talk after they graduated about how they liked their jobs but wished they could work for themselves. With a father who was farming, Lyon said he realized: “I can go home and skip that whole step.”
And so, Lyon joined his father on the farm, which at that time was focused on growing tobacco. After several years of having people stop and ask if they were close to a pick-your-own strawberry patch in nearby Oxford, Lyon said he decided to plant strawberries in 1983 to compete.
Since then, Lyon has converted the family farm from primarily tobacco to fruits and vegetables that he sells directly to consumers and some Triangle restaurants. If it sells at a farmers market, Lyon likely grows it on the 9 acres he has in production: raspberries, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, pears, apples, figs, cantaloupe, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, lettuce, onions and more.
If you want those strawberries and rhubarb, get them while they last. Both crops tend to fade by mid-June when the weather warms up.
Lyon Farm is at 1544 Munns Road, Creedmoor. They operate a farm stand and pick-your-own strawberry fields at that location. Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-6 p.m. Sunday. Info: lyonfarms.com
You can also buy from them at two farmers markets:
▪ Durham Farmers’ Market, 501 Foster St. Hours: 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, 3:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Info: durhamfarmersmarket.com
▪ Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, 301 W. Main St. Hours: 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays, 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays. Info: carrborofarmersmarket.com
They also operate three produce stands, open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily:
Raleigh: At the corner of Creedmoor Road and Lodestar Drive, just south of Strickland Road, across from Five Guys.
Butner: On N.C. 56 between Butner and Creedmoor, next to the Burger King, 1547 N.C. 56, Creedmoor.
Oxford: At the corner of East Industry Drive and N.C. 96, across from Cook Out.
From “Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More,” America’s Test Kitchen (Editors of America’s Test Kitchen, 2016).
1 cup chopped strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup peeled and shredded Granny Smith apple, about 1/2 apple
2 (2-inch) strips lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Place 2 small plates in freezer to chill. In large saucepan, crush strawberries with potato masher until fruit is mostly broken down. Stir in rhubarb, sugar, apple, lemon zest and lemon juice and bring to a boil, stirring often, over medium-high heat. When boiling, crush rhubarb gently with potato masher to help it break down, leaving some pieces intact. Once sugar is completely dissolved, boil mixture, stirring and adjusting heat as needed, until thickened and registers 217 to 220 degrees, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
To test consistency, place 1 teaspoon jam on chilled plate and freeze for 2 minutes. Drag finger through jam on plate; jam has correct consistency when finger leaves distinct trail. If jam is runny, return pot to heat and simmer for 1 to 3 minutes longer before retesting. Remove lemon zest and skim any foam from surface using spoon.
Place two 1-cup jars in bowl and place under hot running water until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes; shake dry.
Use funnel and ladle, portion hot jam in hot jars. Let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until jam is set, 12 to 24 hours. Jam can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.
Yield: 2 cups.