A new house is full of surprises. I moved about a month ago and have since discovered a few little treasures at my new home. For example, there is a marching band of squirrels that rehearses on the roof at sunrise. We also have a waterfall in the basement. It’s quite convenient actually; while one person takes a bath, another can shower downstairs. And best of all, just beyond the fence line in the backyard, there’s a jungle complete with luscious, edible, inspirational plants.
According to the lady next door, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than forty years, one of the original owners of my house was an avid gardener. She grew big red roses and had a garden full of grains, fruits and vegetables – some of which have withstood twenty years without care and are still growing on the property. In addition to flowers, wheat and a few berry bushes, there are three or four varieties of tall, leafy plants with thick, crimson stems reaching up over the chain link fence. I had hoped at least one was the delicious springtime vegetable we know as a fruit, but the experts at Oakland Nursery confirmed my “rhubarb” is actually just Elephant Ears and weeds.
Despite my lack of ability to cook straight from the backyard right now, I’m grateful to the woman who left a little color for motivation and excited to help her remaining (non-weed) plants flourish because I know she would want them to be tended. But even more so, I am inspired by easily mimicked rhubarb.
It’s not totally unrealistic to think the red plants growing in my backyard were rhubarb. After all, it is a durable and prolific perennial. Its poisonous leaves make it undesirable to critters so it grows in abundance without interference from garden pests. Best of all, rhubarb is easily harvested by pulling the stalks from the ground!
Use of rhubarb originated in China and Tibet primarily for medicine, but the vegetable was famed for culinary use in North England in an area known as the Rhubarb Triangle of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford.
The celery-like plant dressed up in a satin, lipstick-pink gown is nicknamed the pie plant for good reason. While you never want to eat its thick green leaves, the hearty stalks of rhubarb are an impeccable tartness when gussied up with sugar, baked into a flaky crust and adorned with a hint of vanilla cream. But that’s not all it’s good for.
Just Pies and other perfect pastry institutions in Columbus have served up variations on Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie for eons, but many contemporary eateries are pushing the limits and using rhubarb in main courses, beverages and desserts. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – famous for out-of-the-ordinary flavors – occasionally carries a Rhubarb and Lime Sorbet and also Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake ice cream made with rhubarb compote in sugary syrup with crushed oatcakes.
Other uses for rhubarb, including homemade wine, have been long-time staples in England and are being reformed and created here in Ohio, where it is in season only April through June. If libations aren’t your thing, you might try your wooden spoon on an easy Rhubarb Chutney which can be served perfectly over ham, roasted pork or mackerel (a popular English dish). We modified this recipe for the warm weather and put it over black forest ham on a toasted roll with a side of fresh fruit. You can also get your grill on to create a sweet and sour springtime treat.
If you’re a traditionalist, give this slightly modified take on rhubarb pie a shot. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
With “A Kitchen Inspired” we will share with you the current and up-and-coming ingredients, products, and cooking methods that inspire our team members, chefs and the kitchen at Whole Foods Market Dublin. Let us know if you created something sweet or have a sour taste in your mouth at email@example.com.
Photography by Stephen Davis, Whole Foods Market Dublin Store Artist.
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