Tart rhubarb is perfect foil for sweet fruits

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Rhubarb stalks, which look like overgrown red celery, are a vegetable usually treated as a fruit -- typically sweetened and baked into pies (often in combination with strawberries) or other desserts.

In China, rhubarb was grown and traded for medicinal purposes as early as the 16th century. It wasn't until the 19th century that the crimson stalked plant gained popularity as a food and vegetable source, according to History of the Fruit.

My grandma always pointed out that the redder the stalk, the sweeter the flavor and was a great compliment for strawberries. However, she drilled it into our heads that the leaves were poisonous and always to be discarded.

Here are a few recipes in which to enjoy the tart springtime favorite.

Toasted Pecan and Rhubarb Bread

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. butter, softened

2 eggs

1 c. buttermilk

2 c. flour

1/2 c. pecans, toasted

1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

1/4 t. salt

1 c. sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb (do not thaw)

1 T. sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of large loaf pan. In large bowl, combine 3/4 c. sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beat well. Add buttermilk, blend well.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In small bowl combine flour, pecans, baking powder and baking soda and salt; mix well. Add to buttermilk mixture; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in rhubarb. Pour batter into greased pan. Sprinkle with 1 T. sugar over top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool. Store in refrigerator.

Rhubarb Raspberry Pie

2 c. rhubarb, cut up

1 c. sugar

2 1/2 T. tapioca

1 t. butter

1 c. raspberries, fresh or frozen

Mix all ingredients. Let stand 15 minutes. Prepare pastry for a two crust pie (9 inch). Fill unbaked pie shell with the well mixed fruit filling. Add top crust and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Finish baking at 350 degrees for 45 additional minutes.

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab serves Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with vanilla ice cream in Chicago, Las Vegas and D.C.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. flour

1 lb. fresh rhubarb, chopped

2 pints fresh strawberries

1 pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie

2 tablespoons butter

1 egg yolk

2 T. sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour and sugar. Add strawberries and chopped rhubarb. Toss with sugar and flour and let stand for 30 minutes.

Pour filling into pie crust. Dot top with butter, and cover with top crust. Seal edges of top and bottom crust with water. Apply yolk to top of pie, using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with sugar. Cut small holes in top to let steam escape.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly and brown. Cool on rack.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

1 pkg. yellow cake mix

1 1/2 to 2 c. rhubarb, chopped

1 to 1 1/2 c. sugar, to taste

Prepare cake mix following directions on the package. Grease and lightly flour a 9x13-inch pan. Place rhubarb in pan, sprinkle with sugar, and pour cake batter over rhubarb. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center of the cake. Turn out immediately onto cookie sheet or platter. Serve warm with ice cream or serve cold. Keeps well in refrigerator. Serves 12.

Rhubarb Jam

4 c. rhubarb, cut into small pieces

3 c. sugar

1 sm. pkg. Strawberry Jell-O

Combine rhubarb and sugar and let stand until juicy. Cook over low heat until rhubarb is tender. Add Jell-O and mix well. Spoon into freezer containers and freeze. Yields 2 pints.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp.

Low Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch

4 c. fresh rhubarb, chopped

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 T. honey

1 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

1/4 c. butter

1 t. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries and honey. Transfer to a shallow baking dish. In the same bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix in the butter until crumbly, and spread over the top of the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven, until rhubarb is tender and the topping is toasted. Serve warm.