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Published July 10, 2013, 11:55 PM

The Great Indoors: Making the most of summer rhubarb

About a month ago, I had a pleasant surprise. I found rhubarb in my backyard. For those of you wondering why I wouldn’t have noticed this sooner, I have a reason. We bought our new house over the winter when the snow and ice blanketed the yard and garden. Who knew I had this glorious plant in our midst? So imagine how happy I was when the snow (finally) went away and there it was.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

About a month ago, I had a pleasant surprise. I found rhubarb in my backyard. For those of you wondering why I wouldn’t have noticed this sooner, I have a reason. We bought our new house over the winter when the snow and ice blanketed the yard and garden. Who knew I had this glorious plant in our midst? So imagine how happy I was when the snow (finally) went away and there it was.

“Hey! Cool! It’s rhubarb!” Visions of strawberry rhubarb pie and rhubarb crisp danced in my head. But then worry set in. I know a lot about eating rhubarb and nothing about harvesting and preparing it myself. I was ready for the challenge, thanks, in part, to my friend Mr. Google and a site called Rhubarb Central (rhubarbcentral.com). So on “The Great Indoors” today join me as I tackle Rhubarb 101: How to harvest rhubarb and make the easiest rhubarb recipe on the planet.

Harvesting rhubarb

1. Do not harvest rhubarb in its first year.

2. Harvest can occur between April and September in most parts of the country.

3. Harvest stalks when they are approximately 10 to 15 inches long and firm.

4. Mature stalks are usually deep red.

5. You may harvest just what you need or take nearly the entire plant. But it is advised that you leave at least of third of the stalks. At the end of the season you may harvest the entire plant to avoid the leaves damaging the plant over the winter.

6. To get the stalk out of the ground avoid cutting or pulling as that may damage the plant or invite infection. It’s best to go to the base of the stalk and twist it out of the ground.

7. If you’re using the rhubarb almost immediately cut off the leaf and dispose it in a waste receptacle. The leaves are poisonous and will make humans and animals sick if they are ingested. If you are not using the rhubarb immediately, you can leave about an inch or so of the leaf on the stalk to help the stalk remain moist. But ALWAYS cut off the leave prior to cooking, baking or eating.

8. Wash the stalks and cut into small pieces. (Some people also like to peel the tougher outside layer of the stalk, but it’s not necessary).

9. Cut up rhubarb freezes nicely. Simply store in a plastic bag for up to a year.

After having patted myself on the back for a successful harvest, I chose not to freeze the rhubarb, but immediately make something with it. But let’s face it. I wanted to keep it simple.

Leave it to my Facebook and Pinterest pals to help. A couple of them either posted or pinned this recipe for Rhubarb Dump Cake. It couldn’t be much easier. I tried the recipe about a month ago and found it cloyingly sweet. The tart in the rhubarb was overshadowed by all the sugar. So I’m offering up a revision on the Rhubarb Dump Cake that uses less than the cup of sugar some recipes call for. But, of course, adjust to your liking.

Rhubarb Dump Cake

6 - 10 stalks of rhubarb (cut up in ½ inch pieces)

1 yellow cake mix

1 (3 oz) package strawberry Jell-o

¼ cup sugar (adjust to your taste)

1 cup water

¼ cup butter (melted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Spread the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb, followed by the Jell-o, and finally the cake mix. Pour the water and melted butter over the top. Do not stir. Bake for 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Serve with premium vanilla ice cream.

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