• Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

Home & Garden: Rhubarb Riches

Bynikholas

May 26, 2021 , , ,
Our rhubarb plants, now waist-high, are beginning to send up seed stalks. It appears that some rhubarb plants are more prone to flowering than others, with old-fashioned varieties reported to be heavy seed-stalk producers. Since our plants were divisions taken from other, older gardens on Vinalhaven, their origins are unknown, but even though their huge seed plumes are beautiful, easily as exotic as some highly prized blossoms, when plants flower when we don’t want them to, it’s called bolting — and the two enormous patches that anchor the back corners of the garden are bolting with a passion. Alas, this production of seed in rhubarb is a waste of the plants’ resources, which are better spent on producing edible stalks or storing carbohydrates to use the following season. If you leave the stalks uncut and allow seed to mature, the resulting seedlings can be less desirable than the mother plant, which may have started out as a named cultivar. Seedling offspring can also be vigorous enough or numerous enough to take over the original planting, so it’s best to get in there and cut away any seed stalks throughout the season, to ensure your plants remain vigorous. Applying moderate amounts of fertilizer, such as well-composted manure, each spring also discourages bolting.

If you love rhubarb in all its iterations — compote, pies, cakes, cobblers and crisps — and have a large family, you might be able to keep up with the production, but if you can’t, you need to find a way to preserve this bounty. Many like to freeze rhubarb, and it can be frozen either raw or after blanching it, though the method for freezing is the same for either. If you’re planning to keep frozen rhubarb for more than three months, blanching it will help to keep more of its color, which may not be important to you, but I personally find the pale pink juices of spring rhubarb to be one of its most appealing characteristics and, conversely, am not as fond of the sad, grayish compote that is the end result of most frozen rhubarb. So if you are ambitious and want to blanch rhubarb, clean it and chop it into one-inch pieces. Place the chopped pieces into boiling water for a minute, remove from the boiling water with a handled strainer or spider, and immediately plunge the rhubarb into ice water, which stops the cooking process. Leave it for about a minute and remove and dry thoroughly. Spread the pieces out on a baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer until the pieces are frozen solid. This usually takes a couple of hours. Then, transfer the frozen pieces into freezer bags or another airtight container. Using a vacuum sealer, which removes as much air as possible, is preferable, but do the best you can to remove excess air.

When you thaw the rhubarb to use it, there will be excess liquid. If you’re making a recipe that doesn’t call for a lot of liquid or has the potential to become soggy, you’ll want to thaw the rhubarb completely and see how much liquid there is, so that you can adjust the recipe as needed. Thawed rhubarb is also denser than fresh, so if a recipe calls for two cups of fresh rhubarb, you may want to thaw three cups to make up for this. Do your thawing in a strainer set over a bowl so you can save the excess liquid and, if you are making a crisp or pie, put this liquid in a pan and reduce it down into a few tablespoons and then add it back to the fruit.

In celebration of this harbinger of spring, we’ve already consumed several crisps, and some rhubarb schnapps is in the works. Here are our favorite recipes for each:

R H U B A R B   C R I S P

For the filling:
6 cups rhubarb, cut into 12-inch pieces
34 cup granulated sugar (half a cup of sugar and 14 cup maple syrup is also tasty)
14 cup flour
For the topping:
5 Tbsp. soft butter
1 cup quick oats
23 cup flour
12 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
14 tsp. sea salt

Butter a 2-quart baking dish, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place rhubarb in baking dish, add sugar and flour and mix together. In a medium bowl, cut butter into oats, flour, sugar and salt, using your fingers or a couple of knives, until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Spread topping over rhubarb and bake for an hour, until bubbling around edges. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

R H U B A R B   S C H N A P P S

114 lbs. chopped rhubarb, the pinkest stalks you can find
112 cups sugar
1 liter vodka, the cheaper the better

Place chopped rhubarb in a large, sealable jar. Add the sugar and shake it well. Add the vodka.
Place lid on jar and store in a cool dark place for three to four weeks. Try to shake the jars once in a while. Strain schnapps into a pitcher and pour into a bottle or bottles. Voila! The perfect summer drink for mixing with sparkling water or tonic.