Locally Grown Rhubarb!!!


My produce antennae were definitely on high alert at the markets last Saturday. In a dark corner of a suki’s stall, I spotted what looked like malnourished rhubarb… Could it be? Really? YUP, it was in fact locally grown RHUBARB. Very skinny rhubarb but at PHP80 for a five inch diameter bunch, I figured I would take my chances… The vendor was quite stunned that I even knew what it was, but not as shocked as I was seeing it for sale… Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is essentially a vegetable, but chefs in the West use it or treat it more like a fruit. It has a tart, distinctive and unique flavor that is very memorable. Once you get hooked, you become a rhubarb groupie and a taste of it at least once a year is necessary… I always associated rhubarb with the West; having eaten it in desserts in Europe and North America. But a little research resulted in this surprising fact…turns out rhubarb probably originated in China, and made its way West through Russia and Europe…

The plant only made it to North America in the late 1700’s and became relatively common only a hundred years later. Today it is grown primarily in the Western U.S. states rhu2and most of the crop is frozen for restaurant and other institutional uses according to Elizabeth Schneider in her book “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.” But it is only grown on 1,000+ acres which means that no matter how you look at it, it is not a big crop by Western standards. A lot of folks might have a rhubarb patch in their home gardens but this is certainly not a mainstream ingredient… What makes rhubarb so distinct is its high acidity and sourness, which comes with a very distinct taste/flavor and mouth feel. The stalks of the plant are what are cooked (the leaves are poisonous) and it tends to disintegrate into a nice thick sauce… I had a superb rhubarb based dessert at a terrific lunch at Restaurant Daniel in New York a couple of years ago and I almost always seem to have rhubarb based sauces served cold. Though a rhubarb and strawberry pie warm is also a nice use of the fruit or is it vegetable? Stay tuned for the experiment(s) with Mt. Province raised rhubarb…

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15 Responses

  1. MM, can you tell me how to use rhubarb? We have big clumps of rhubarb in our garden but am so ignorant about it. My husband said it is very tart so I tried to use it into a souring agent (I thought it would do the job of our tamarind:)) Obviously, it was not grown for that purpose so I forgot about it. I have since tried to get rid of it, but it is such a resilient plant that no matter where I put it, it keeps thriving. What’s the best way to cook it for somebody who has yet to be introduced to the taste of rhubarb?

  2. Though most commonly used in pies and jams, rhubarbs can be used in many other ways. Its tartness lends very well to cakes, breads, sauces, and even wine. I like to use rhubarbs in recipes that calls for cranberries, such as sauces and chutneys for roasts (turkey and pork) and salsa for grilled meats and fish.

    MM, you are correct. Although mainly eaten and prepared as a fruit, the rhubarb is classified as a vegetable.

    I look forward to your rhubarb “experiments” and am eager to see what you come up with!

  3. Wow, that’s a pleasant surprise! I wonter how rhubarb found its way to the Mountain Province? Look forward to your rhubarb recipes. It this can be used in bread then I can also use it in scones that call for cranberry in the recipe.

  4. MM, i know rhubarb has been grown in the Mt. Province for many years -in fact, Good Shepherd-Baguio almost always has rhubard-strawberry jam in its shelves. i think the growers deliver their produce straight to the jam makers, but I’ve seen rhubarb a few times in the market.

  5. Love rhubarb. Rinse well, cut tender portions of stalk into 1 inch pieces and add 11/2 c. for every kilo of cleaned rhubarb and cook cook over medium heat until bubbling, about 5 min. Cool. Use with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or cut up oranges and strawberries for a fruit soup.

  6. Apple and rhubarb pie with crisp topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream is an excellent dessert. I use rhubarb in my sinigang with lots of red and green tomatoes.

  7. One of the reasons I hesitate to buy Nigella Lawson’s “How to Eat” is because there seeem to be an inordinate number of recipes using ingredients not locally available, especially rhubarb. I’ve never tried rhubarb, but after seeing Nigella use it several times on her TV show, I am very curious as to its taste. it certainly imparts a beautiful color!

  8. Millet is right, MM. I was in Baguio a long time ago (20 years na yata yon) and a friend of mine [in Manila] asked me to buy her some rhubarb. Ni hindi ko nga alam kung ano yon that time. But I went to Baguio public market, asked around, and I was able to buy her a whole bunch. I can’t remember anymore how much it was, but i bet it was really cheap.

  9. Marketman,

    Here’s another rhubarb recipe for you.

    Rich Rhubarb and Caramel Baked Custard

    2 cups cream
    4 eggs
    8 tbsp brown sugar
    2 cups rhubarb, chopped
    1 cup orange juice
    ground nutmeg or powdered ginger

    Simmer rhubarb in orange juice and half the sugar till soft. Add water only if sticking.
    Place in an oven proof dish.
    Beat the cream, eggs and remaining sugar with a fork or eggbeater for three minutes. Pour over the rhubarb. Dust on a little ground nutmeg or powdered ginger. Bake at 200C for half an hour or till firm. Serve hot, or eat the cold leftovers for a sinful breakfast.

  10. Mmmmm, rhubarb brings back childhood memories! My Ma used to make a great rhubarb pie. Agree with Millet and Enya, it is available in the Baguio market. will have to go back to Salcedo soon…

  11. Yeah! I’m so excited! Rhubarb is my favorite and we’re moving to the philippines soon! I was hoping it could be found there!

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