Rhubarb In The City: A Cultural Tradition Worth Bringing Back


Rhubarb growing. Image credit:Wikipedia

Growing up in the rural US Midwest, I thought everybody had a rhubarb plant in their back yard. Ours was off in the corner by the sandbox. When I moved to Chicago, living in a rental flat in an old European-settled neighborhood, every other backyard had a patch growing by the alley. Long after the original families had moved on to the distant suburbs, their rhubarb lived on. (Though I bet many took a root cutting with them to the burbs.) What's it good for? I'll tell you.Rhubarb comes up late spring through early summer. I harvested it about the same time that the asparagus is cut. It's mostly for making deserts before any other fruit is available. (Though the season lasts all the way through the summer.)

If you're kid, what you do with rhubarb is, on a real sweltering day you break off a stalk, throw the leaves away (don't eat the leaves - they're poisonous with oxalic acid), and you dip the stalk end in the sugar bowl. Then chew on it to get the sour juice in your mouth. A more intense sweet/sour sensation does not exist.

Nothing more local than your back yard.
All you need is a sunny corner with a spare square meter. Soil needs some organic content. Runoff from a city garage roof down-spout, diverted to the rhubarb, can be helpful; but don't drown it.

Container gardening rhubarb seems like a possibility. There's an archive post below which refers to that practice.

The serving of home made rhubarb deserts can be a contentious subject unless the cook has a good, time-tested recipe. Badly prepared rhubarb pies or torts are at the root of the conversational attack "that's a lot of rhubarb." (It wasn't until I was a teen that I realized this was a euphemism for "BS.") Also, grocery store-sold, pre-made rhubarb desert products are awful. Don't even think about it.

Before you cook rhubarb stems, remember to peel off any strings on the outside - as if it were celery.

And be on the lookout for a grandma recipe. I've had some outstanding deserts. The best ones are treated like heirlooms and a cook may be reluctant to share the magic. Be extra nice and you may get lucky.

Now is the time, by the way, to do the transplanting. Root sections may be mail ordered or found in some garden stores.

More rhubarb posts.
Real Food Festival
Chrome-free EcoPell Leather
How Can We Eat Local All Year Long?
Incredible Edible Food Revolution is Happening