June 8, 2008

The rhubarb is thriving in my garden -- come take a look!

Rhubarb is native to Northern Asia and, like many other plants, it was originally valued as a popular remedy for a wide range of ailments. Its flavor wasn't appreciated until the 19th century, after it was introduced to Europe. When it was discovered that the tartness of rhubarb was greatly improved with the addition of sugar, bakers began using the fleshy stalks in their creations. Rhubarb was soon dubbed the "pie plant."

Botanically, rhubarb is a perennial vegetable, generally eaten like a fruit. It's very easy to grow and thrives in colder climates. It's best to plant root clumps, known as root divisions, because plants from seed take much longer to establish themselves. Be sure to choose a permanent location for your rhubarb because the plants will continue to grow for 20 or more years in the same place. Also, for the best flavor, be certain that you're planting a sweet, red variety. One of my favorites is called "New Valentine." It has dark-red stalks that are tender, flavorful, and attractive -- a far cry from the common sour, green variety that many people are familiar with. Rhubarb is versatile and well-suited to pies, crisps, jams, and chutneys. But it's important to know: Never eat the leaves -- they're poisonous!

Check out some of these wonderful rhubarb recipes at marthastewart.com

Rhubarb CrispRhubarb CompoteWhole Rhubarb ChutneyBaked Rhubarb