Simple Living

Eat local in every season: 3 ways to use rhubarb

It can be challenging to eat local outside of the summer season in southwestern BC. The crops that grow are somewhat limited compared to the abundance of summer, and sometimes you have to be a bit creative to use what’s in season.

Rhubarb is a cold weather plant that begins to produce early in the year and so is a great way to add variety to local fare in the spring season. Rhubarb was always in our garden growing up, and we used it mostly to make each other cringe by eating it raw, and in coffee cake. However, there are many more ways to use rhubarb than just these!

Source: Pixabay

This week on the blog I’m exploring the origins of rhubarb, and a few ways I like to use it.

Check out these posts here for other ideas to eat local in every season!

The origins of rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial plant in the buckwheat family, and can trace it’s origins to ancient China. Surprisingly it was initially prized for its medicinal properties rather than its culinary uses. The earliest records of rhubarb use date back to around 270 BC. Chinese doctors utilized elements of the rhubarb plant to treat a variety of ailments.1

From China, the knowledge of rhubarb’s medicinal value spread along the Silk Road, reaching the Middle East and eventually Europe. By the Middle Ages, rhubarb was a highly valued commodity in European markets.2

Introduction to Europe and Culinary Uses

Rhubarb began to transition from a medicinal plant to a culinary ingredient in the 18th century. The plant was brought to Europe by traders and explorers. By the late 19th century, rhubarb had made its way to North America, where it quickly became a staple in pies and desserts.

Rhubarb’s appeal lies in its unique tart flavor, which pairs wonderfully with sweet ingredients, but it also makes it challenging to cook with – if the recipe is not quite right then those eating it are in for a sour surprise!

Source: Pixabay

Growing and harvesting rhubarb

Rhubarb thrives in cooler climates and is often one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It prefers well-drained soil and a sunny location.

When harvesting rhubarb, it’s important to remember that only the stalks are edible; the leaves contain oxalic acid and are toxic if consumed, though a person would have to consume many pounds of leaves to experience toxicity.

Source: Pixabay

To harvest, simply pull and twist the stalks from the base. Pulling the stalks signals the plant to increase growth, whereas cutting does not trigger this mechanism. Cutting stalks can also introduce bacteria and rot into the plant.

When picking, select smaller stalks as the larger ones can be woody and affect the texture of the recipe you’re planning to make.

Rhubarb freezes really well, I simply cut it up and freeze on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a bag for later use.

Rhubarb recipes

1. Rhubarb pie

This is a family recipe that is simple and delicious; it yields a 9 inch pie. First, preheat oven to 425 F, then prepare the following:

  • 4 cups cut up rhubarb
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/3 to 1 2/3 white sugar (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated orange peel

Combine ingredients and fill prepared pie crust. Bake 40 – 50 minutes until contents are bubbling. Cover the pie with foil for the first 30 minutes of baking, then remove for the last 10 – 20 minutes of baking.

2. Rhubarb ice cream

This was an experiment last year! My family purchased a secondhand ice cream maker and had a lot of fun turning our produce into dessert. My favourite was our haskap berry ice cream, but a close second was the rhubarb ice cream my husband made. The trick to this one was to select the pinkest stalks to achieve a blush coloured treat. This was the recipe we used and it got rave reviews!

3. Rhubarb coffee cake

This is similar to the recipe I had growing up – it’s sweet and tart and especially delicious when still warm from the oven!

Source: Pixabay


Rhubarb’s journey from an ancient medicinal plant to modern kitchen favourite is a testament to its versatility and enduring appeal – and it adds a bit of variety to our local fare this time of year! What is your favourite way to use rhubarb?

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  1. National Library of Medicine ↩︎
  2. Real Food Encyclopedia ↩︎

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