I was away for a few days last week, hoping to return to a garden bursting with new growth in my absence – but alas! The weather here has not been great – cold and rainy through most of April – so although I could see some marginal growth, it wasn’t what I had hoped for. On top of that, my one free day to garden this weekend (Sunday) was a wash of showers, winds and coldish temperatures, so I got very little of my front bed (in desperate need of some attention) done.
But despite it all, I harvested my first crop of the spring season – 4 and a half pounds of lovely red, Rhubarb from the sprawling plant at the foot of our compost bin out back. Best thing is, that’s just the first harvest of what will probably top out at around 14 pounds of rhubarb by the end of summer – this is one prodigious plant (that I do nothing for, really, it just grows and grows).
Growing up, the only way we ever had rhubarb was in pie form. Served warm with vanilla ice cream, my mother’s rhubarb pie was one of my favourite summer treats (rivaled only by the blackberry pies in early fall)…. and last summer I think that’s pretty much what we did with all our plant produced – pie filling and crisps. But really, we don’t make desserts that often, and I gave about half of what our plant produced to friends because I was at a loss with the surplus. Little did I know about the many websites devoted to rhubarb out there!
The Rhubarb Compendium and Savor the Rhubarb are two such sites dedicated to as many uses for rhubarb in cooking as you can think of. Chutneys, muffins, jams, drinks, candy, sidedishes – even craft projects! Oh yes, the many things you can do with rhubarb.
For my part, I made a batch of yummy muffins last night (rich, not too sweet) and cut the remaining four pounds into cubes for the freezer. Once I harvest another two pounds in a few weeks I am going to attempt a batch of wine which will be ready to drink by next summer. This will be my first foray into wine-making, so I’ll be impatient about it I’m sure!
The rest of this summer’s rhubarb? I’m thinking jam, chutney and assorted desserts. Whatever we do with it, I’ll be sure to write it down here. Recipes after the cut!
Cinnamon Topped Rhubarb Muffins (from the Rhubarb Compendium)
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup butter
1 (8oz) cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tea baking soda
1/2 tea cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tea cinnamon
Procedure: Heat oven to 375 F. In large bowl cream brown sugar and butter. Add sour cream and eggs; continue beating until well mixed (1-2 min). In a second bowl stir together flour baking soda and 1/2 tea cinnamon. By hand, stir flour mixture into sour cream mixture just until moistened. Fold in rhubarb. Spoon into greased muffin pans. In small bowl stir together 1 tbs sugar and 1/2 tea cinnamon, sprinkle onto each muffin. Bake for 25 min or until lightly browned. Cool 10 min; remove from pans.
Rhubarb Wine (from Jack Keller’s Wine website)
* 6-7 lbs red rhubarb
* 2-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
* 2 large lemons (juice only)
* water to make up one gallon
* 1 crushed Campden tablet
* 1 oz precipitated chalk
* 1-1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
* Sauterne wine yeast
Wash the rhubarb and cut into 1/2-inch lengths. Crush with a piece of sterilized hardwood (the end of a baseball bat is perfect) and put into primary. Dissolve crushed Campden tablet in gallon of cold water and pour over rhubarb. Cover primary and let set for three days, stirring daily. Strain through a nylon straining bag and squeeze as much liquid as possible from the pulp. Discard pulp and return liquor to primary. Add the precipitated chalk (obtainable at winemaking shop). The liquor will fizz, but then settle down. Wait 3 hours and taste. If oxalic acid taste is still too strong, add another 1/2 oz of precipitated chalk. Stir in all remaining ingredients, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. (NOTE: You may want to hold back one pound of the sugar and add it after fermentation is well on its way.) Cover and set aside overnight. Transfer to secondary and fit airlock, but to allow for foaming during fermentation hold back a pint or so in a small bottle plugged with cotton. When ferment settles down (5-7 days), top up with reserved liquor and refit airlock. Set aside in cool place until wine begins to clear. Rack, refit airlock and top up. Allow at least another two months, making sure fermentation has ceased, and rack again. If possible, cold stabilize wine for 30 days. If you can’t cold stabilize, at least allow the wine the additional 30 days. Rack into bottles or blend with another wine.
If you bottle the rhubarb wine pure, it is drinkable right away. If you blend it, age it according to instructions for the wine you are blending with. If you make a 3-5-gallon batch, add 1/8 tsp tannin per gallon when you add the other dry ingredients to extend the life of the wine.