Stalks of rhubarb

There is a lot to love about spring: spring break, warmer weather, flowers (maybe not the allergies!), but most of all, the food!

Spring is one of the best times of year for fresh produce, mostly just because we’ve been missing it so badly all winter. Sweet green peas, asparagus, and strawberries start to find their ways to our markets and bellies. But there’s one thing we look forward to most of all, and that’s rhubarb.

Rhubarb is special, mostly because it can be hard to find. Unlike other seasonal vegetables, like berries or broccoli, rhubarb doesn’t typically live in our grocery stores all year round. It shows up suddenly around April, and then it’s gone almost as quickly as it came. When you see rhubarb, you need to snatch it up or else wait until next year.

What even is rhubarb? Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, though it’s usually cooked and treated like a fruit. It looks a bit like stalks of celery, except it’s bright pink (though sometimes it can be paler in color, and even green). Unlike celery, it’s sold by the stalk rather than the whole bunch, because that’s how it grows!

rhubarb plant

Rhubarb is very, very tart, which is why it’s often paired with sweeter fruits, like strawberries (like in this Strawberry Rhubarb Soup!). It’s crispy and crunchy, but it is almost always served cooked, alongside plenty of sugar to help balance its sourness. You may have heard that rhubarb is poisonous, but don’t worry—only the leaves are hazardous to eat. The rhubarb stalk is not just safe, but delicious.

To cook with rhubarb, you may choose to peel away some of the outside skin of the stalk, but you don’t always need to. Bigger, thicker stalks can be tough, and you can use your fingernail to loosen this skin and peel it right off. Otherwise, you can chop it and fold it into Rhubarb Mini-Muffin batter or scones, cook it into a pie filling, or simmer it with strawberries to make jam or a sweet and tart topping for vanilla bean ice cream.

Strawberries and rhubarb in syrup

Many people like to poach rhubarb, which means cooking it gently in a sweet syrup. You can flavor your syrup with ingredients like cardamom or ginger, and then use the cooked rhubarb in a tart, to serve alongside pudding, or eaten on its own with a dollop of whipped cream and a crispy cookie on the side.

If you learn to love rhubarb and are sad over its super-fast growing season, it’s easy to freeze and keep for later. Slice it, spread it on a cookie sheet, and pop it in the freezer. Once it’s frozen, transfer the pieces to a zip-top freezer bag, and pull it out when the winter blues come back around!

Cover image: Amanda Slater// license

Rhubarb plant image: Anders Sandberg// license