Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rhubarb Dreams

Since the rhubarb is starting to sprout, I started thinking about this plant. This photo is from August 2006.

I've grown it for 4 years, starting it from an "orphan" root that I bought at Fred Meyer's 'reject' stand. It was dried out and dead looking. Even so, it grew rapidly. Due to the fast growth and large size of the plant, it was relocated to a larger spot after one year.

The variety is Victoria. This is an heirloom variety, sometimes raised from seed. I previously raised glaskins perpetual from seed, but didn't have room for two rhubarbs plants so it had to go (the choice had more to do with the location than the plant). Sometimes the stalks are red, but mostly they are green Even on this one plant, there is color variability. In the early Spring, they are redder, but in the summer, they are green. It has a strange, majestic flower stalk, similar to that of yucca, but more fluffy.

Despite the best of intentions, I've harvested only a few batches of stalks, for rhubarb pie or crumble, and one time attempted a rhubarb jam (this was very solid & even though I liked the taste, the texture was too firm). Of course, I didn’t have much idea of what I was doing. The main thing that gets into my way is not that I don't like it (I love rhubarb) but that I am not much of a cook.

Since I'm partial to trivia about a plant's history, here are some interesting factoids and links:

The history of horticultural and medicinal use of rhubarb goes back 4,700 years.

The amazing history of rhubarb - more than any one person could know about rhubarb.

Of course, Wikipedia also has a wealth of information about rhubarb.

Some strange things about this vegetable:

- While tomatoes, which are a fruit, are commonly considered a vegetable, rhubarb, which is a vegetable, is classified as a fruit.
- There is a region in England known as "the rhubarb triangle" where rhubarb is grown.
- Rhubarb rhaponticum, which is a true rhubarb, is known as "false rhubarb."
-The name comes from the latin "rha barbarian", for the barbarian plant from the river Rha, which is the old name for the river Volga (I don't know if I really believe this).

NPR has some alternative uses for rhubarb, such as in chutneys. I really will make better use of this plant this year. Others mention rhubarb breads, rhubarb cake, rhubarb sauces.

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