Cooks' Exchange: Sweet and savory ways to use rhubarb

Cooks' Exchange: Sweet and savory ways to use rhubarb


Last week’s column featuring favorite rhubarb recipes brought a few comments from readers asking if there were other rhubarb recipes besides pies, cakes, crisps and kuchens. It was a legitimate question that found me reaching for some old rhubarb cookbooks to learn much more.

Because the month of May is when it all begins in gardens throughout Wisconsin and other similar states, it also becomes one of the first joys of summer. The Greeks called it rhabarbaron, with rha meaning the Volga River and barbaron meaning “foreign” or “barbaric” because the first rhubarbs were imported from Russia. In the late 1700s, the rhubarb plant, known as a gardener’s curiosity in England, was sent to America by Benjamin Franklin for relatives to cultivate and by the late 1880s was used mostly for pies and wine.

In 1947, U.S. Customs Court in New York declared rhubarb to be fruit. By the mid-1900s, its popularity exploded and continues today. Back in 1983, between 24-30 million tons of rhubarb were consumed in the United States. Later, the perennial, rich with vitamin C, would be declared a vegetable.

Those interested in planting rhubarb should buy roots for better results, dividing them periodically and double checking with a garden supplier for more details. The plants need sunshine, good soil, and moisture to keep roots from drying out. As beautiful rhubarb plants as can be, its leaves are poisonous leaving only rhubarb stalks to be edible.

Some of the following recipes are from “The Joy of Rhubarb” cookbook, 2004, by Theresa Millang, given to me for my files in 2005 by former State Journal staffer Sandy Kallio.Beginning with early morning thoughts, here is a recipe to try on your hot breakfast cereal.

Stewed rhubarb

6 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, stirring often, about 15 minutes or until slightly thickened and rhubarb is in “threads.” Cool. Refrigerate up to 5 days.

Makes about 3 cups.

This bread will produce about 20 slices per loaf.

Rhubarb bread1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

2/3 cup corn oil

1 egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups rhubarb, diced

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1 tablespoon butter, softened

¼ cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease two 8x4-inch loaf pans. Beat brown sugar and oil in a bowl until creamy. Beat in egg. Add vanilla.

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, soda and cinnamon. Stir sugar-oil mixture into bowl, alternately with buttermilk, until dry ingredients are moist. Fold in rhubarb and nuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Mix butter and granulated sugar; sprinkle over batter. Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap and store in refrigerator. Makes 2 loaves.

Here is a “versatile” sauce, especially good over chicken or ice cream.

Rhubarb sauce

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel

6 cups fresh rhubarb slices 1/4-inch thick

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix sugar, water and orange peel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add rhubarb. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until rhubarb is tender and mixture is thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Cool. Spoon into clean jars; cover and refrigerate for no more than 1 week, or place in plastic containers and freeze.

Makes 3 ½ cups.

This casserole should please most everyone, especially when served with steamed broccoli and hard rolls with butter.

Rhubarb pork chop casserole

1 tablespoon corn oil

4 pork loin chops, ¾ inch thick, seasoned to taste with salt and ground black pepper

3 cups soft bread crumbs

3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat corn oil in a large skillet. Add pork chops; brown on both sides. Remove from skillet; set aside. Mix ¼ cup pan drippings with bread crumbs; reserve ½ cup. Spoon remaining crumbs into 9x13 inch glass baking dish.

Mix rhubarb, sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl; spoon half over bread crumbs. Place pork chops on top. Spoon remaining rhubarb mixture over chops. Cover with cooking foil, and bake 30-45 minutes. Remove foil. Sprinkle with reserved bread crumbs. Continue baking 15 minutes or until pork chops test done. Refrigerate leftovers.

Makes 4 servings.

Another rhubarb cookbook compiled by Rose Marie Fowler and Valerie Pritchard features a 130 pages with favorite recipes shared by friends including this recipe for a rhubarb condiment that goes well with meats. It was shared by Jane Robb Reinhardt.

Rhubarb sauce with meat

4 tablespoons butter

1 pound stew or round beef or lamb, 1-inch cubes

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup chopped parsley

2 cups water

1 pound rhubarb, 3-inch pieces

Melt butter in 2-quart pot. Add meat, onions, and seasonings and saute until meat is browned. Add parsley and saute a few minutes more. Add water and cover and let simmer about 40 minutes on a low fire or until the meat is tender. Add rhubarb to meat sauce and let simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve over rice.

Makes 4-5 servings.

If you’ve wondered about rhubarb shortcake, here’s one to grant your wish from Blanche Auger.

Old fashioned rhubarb shortcake

4 cups cut rhubarb

Cinnamon and nutmeg

1 cup sugar

1 egg

4 tablespoons corn oil

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons sugar or honey

1 ½ cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Line an 8x12-inch pan with rhubarb cut into 1 inch pieces. Shake cinnamon and nutmeg over the rhubarb and sprinkle with 1 cup or more of sugar. In a bowl, beat egg with the oil and milk. Add 2 tablespoons sugar or honey. Combine dry ingredients in another bowl. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients, adding more milk, if necessary, for a “sloppy” dough (almost a thick batter). Spread this over the rhubarb mixture; bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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