When I was a little girl, my grandparents spent their summers at the farm where my grandpa grew up. My parents had a lake cabin nearby, and ran a bakery that (of course) involved them going to work in the middle of the night. The lake, the farm and the bakery were all within 10 miles of each other, and in those wee hours, my parents would drop me off at the farm to finish sleeping and then hang out with my grandparents for the day.
When I would get to the farm, my parents would put me in the bed in the living room that shared a wall with my grandparents’ bedroom. I would knock on the wall three times (for “I love you”) and Grandma would knock back four (to say, “I love you too.”) This was our way of saying, “Hey Grandma I’m here,” and her saying back, “Oh, good.”
We did lots of fun stuff at the farm like bottle feeding calves whose mother couldn’t feed them for some reason, picking weeds in the garden (when I’d get too close to the itchweed Grandma would put wet dirt on it), climbing in the bucket of the loader tractor to pick apples (and then make applesauce), making lunch and taking it to my Grandpa in the field, drinking warm Jell-o out of coffee cups (can you say sugar rush?), and driving around the lake to visit friends.
These were THE BEST DAYS.
There, of course, was also rhubarb. There was always rhubarb! I don’t remember exactly what Grandma made with all of that rhubarb in those days, but I remember trying it raw and making faces, and I remember her picking, cutting and cooking it often.
My husband and I plant a garden every year, and we did start a couple of rhubarb plants a couple of years ago. They are coming along nicely, but not really ready for use yet. A co-worker of mine has a huge rhubarb patch and always lets me come get what I want. I usually try to pick and clean enough to do a few things with while it’s fresh, and then freeze some for later.
It’s so nice to be able to grow things, and share things with others. Last summer, my husband built an Extras Stand in our front yard. As our garden produces and we have extras, we put them in the stand for people to take. It’s so fun to fill it up and then look out later to see things have been taken. Last year someone left us a couple of dollars when they took a bag of tomatoes. We haven’t put anything in it yet this year, but we have an obnoxious amount of self-spreading perennial cilantro in our garden – we should be able to share some of that soon. (However, my newest obsession is the Skinnytaste Peruvian Green Sauce, which I honestly have been eating on everything … so if I keep it up, I may not have much cilantro to share!)
After building our Extras Stand, I learned that there is a movement founded in Texas called the Food is Free Project. People have Extras stands like ours all over, and do cool things like plant community fruit trees, community gardens in their yards and more.
Back to the rhubarb … I’m going to share some ideas for how I like to use rhubarb – most of which I’ve tried, some of which I want to try. I have a board with several rhubarb recipes on my Pinterest if you want to check it out, and I’m going to share some of them below.
- Freezer Jam – My Grandma makes batches of freezer jam, and it is so good. In preparing to write this article, I discovered that the secret ingredient is a can of pie filling! Over the past year, I have been eliminating corn syrup from my diet and choosing foods that I buy very carefully to ensure they don’t contain corn syrup or GMOs. Many times, this results in either buying a more expensive option, or not buying the product at all. I’m pretty sure canned pie filling has corn syrup – so if I make her recipe myself, I will adapt. But when she gives me some, I will eat it. It is really so delicious! (Same goes for marshmallows on a s’more in the summer. There isn’t really a replacement for a good ol’ marshmallow, whether its first ingredient is corn syrup or not. I’ve tried an alternative brand that didn’t have corn syrup, but had carageenan … whether that is or isn’t better for you than corn syrup, I’m not sure. I’m going with the “I’ll just have a marshmallow or two once in awhile and I will be fine.” plan.)
- Rhubarb Dump Cake – I made this 2 weeks ago when we picked this year’s rhubarb and it was so good! I made it with about half as much sugar as it called for, but you can see what you think. I cut sugar in everything I bake, usually by about half but always at least by 1/4. I don’t use artificial sweeteners at all, in anything – but I do cut sugar back where I can. I also used raspberry Jell-o instead of strawberry because it’s what I had in the
pantry. We served this with vanilla ice cream.
- Canned Rhubarb – Two years ago, I decided to try canning some cooked rhubarb. It was easy and turned out fine, but the color ended up being kind of a gross greenish-brown color. It’s not very appetizing and to be honest, most of it is still sitting in my pantry. This is something I probably won’t try again, though it’s strictly personal preference. I just need to make some cake or something with it and it would be delicious I’m sure!
- Rhubarb Jam – Also two years ago, I was really excited to make rhubarb cherry jam. I think the combination sounds so good. However, this was also before I really learned how to make jam, back in my “I’m going to make jam but it’s really going to be syrup when I’m done” days. The days before I found Pomona’s Pectin and before I learned what a rolling boil actually looks like. Anyway, I ended up with rhubarb cherry syrup – but it’s been delicious mixed with lemonade and limeade! A happy accident, as they say. Blueberries and strawberries are also really good mixed with rhubarb in a jam or sauce combination.
- Rhubarb & Berry Sauce – Three years ago, my mom and I made some rhubarb sauce. She loves Noosa Yogurt, especially their rhubarb flavor, so we decided to try some sauce that could be mixed with regular yogurt. We made strawberry rhubarb and blueberry rhubarb. Both turned out great. It was a canning recipe we made, but at this point I can’t remember which one – it was pretty standard though with fruit, sugar, lemon juice … cooked and then hot water bathed.
- Raspberry Rhubarb Shrub – In 2017, I participated in the Food in Jars Challenge, hosted by cookbook author and food blogger Marisa McClellan. There was a different category each month, and participants made and shared it with the Facebook group of participants in the challenge. Many of us made Marisa’s recipes, but it wasn’t a requirement – throughout the year, I used several of her recipes but also some others. One of the monthly challenges included Shrubs. Prior to that, I had no idea what a shrub even was. Turns out it’s a fruit and sugar mash that you add vinegar too, and eventually strain off and drink (in one form or another). For that month’s challenge I made a Raspberry Rhubarb Shrub. Many people love shrubs, but I didn’t quite get it. It stays good in the refrigerator for up to a year, and we are a tad past that at this point and still trying to use ours up in things. It is always good to try new things, but this wasn’t for me.
- Rhubarb Wine – My husband makes wine, usually about 2 batches a year. A couple of years ago, we made a rhubarb/raspberry wine. The problem with making wine with rhubarb and raspberries is that you have to add so much sugar to these fruits to make the wine taste good, that it ends up being sweet wine. He makes fruit wine and normally makes it semi-sweet, so weren’t huge fans of how this turned out.
- Rhubarb Bars – In the past few months, I’ve had two different versions of these, Both are delicious! My sister made these Rhubarb Custard Bars for Easter, and my aunt made these Rhubarb Dream Bars for a recent family picnic. Neither one of them rank very high in the “good for you” category … so perhaps a good thing to make to take somewhere and then just eat one. Or two.
- Rhubarb Cream Pie – I am a member of the Homestead & Old-Fashioned Pinoeer Living Facebook group, and one of the members there posted a handwritten recipe of her grandmother’s last week for this. I snagged it out of the group and am hoping to try it soon with some of the rhubarb I have frozen.
- Rhubarb Slush – this falls under the “I haven’t tried this yet” category. It looks delicious and refreshing, though!
I hope you enjoy. If you make any of these, let me know what you think!