As a non-native to these parts, I have oft marveled at the energy with which spring arrives. Hardly have we pulled off our mukluks, when the neighbors are in their yards, yanking up the dried tangle of last year’s annuals to welcome the new, the very green, and the budding.
There is something thrilling about a short growing season.
But though apple blossoms and blue bells have their own romance, it’s rhubarb that gets me into the garden. While Farmers’ markets are still hawking potted flowers and herb starts, here is the humble pie plant pushing up past the grass — leaves as big as elephant ears, stalks crimson red.
I should say that rhubarb gets me into my neighbor’s garden. I don’t actually own such a plant, but Marlene’s grow with such alarming rapidity that she is more than happy to have me take some of the stalks. In fact, the generous soul often yanks it out for me, preferring to see it wander off than grow woody. Though it may grow like a weed, a rhubarb is a terrible thing to waste.
A few tips from Marlene: Pull the rhubarb away from the root base and break it off, rather than clipping it, which can make the plant susceptible to rot. Although the deep red stalks are lovely, they are not more ripe or sweet-flavored than the green stalks. Hollow stalks are not good eating — leave them to bloom or toss them in the compost.
True to its nickname, rhubarb is best known as a pie filling, and Marlene likes to bake it into white cake, but I enjoy it most as a compote. This recipe balances sweet and tart, an overall flavor that brings out the mint’s brightness. It’s not especially pretty, but the boiled mess makes a delightfully puckery companion to everything from yogurt and ice cream to cake, scones, and toast.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote with Mint
(Servings vary according to use)
1.5 lb of rhubarb
1 c of sugar
2 tbsp of Meyer Lemon juice (one lemon)
2 lb of strawberries
4 tbsp of mint
- Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces
- In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice
- Pour contents into a large, heavy bottom pan and cook until rhubarb is tender and just beginning to fall apart — about 20 minutes
- In the meantime, cut strawberries into thick slices and set aside in the large bowl
- When the rhubarb is tender, gently stir it and any syrup into the strawberries
- Allow the compote to cool completely before adding the mint
Note: If you are new to rhubarb, here are a few words of caution: Don’t eat the leaves. They contain oxalic acid, which in great quantities is poisonous and can cause kidney stones. For that matter, don’t over-indulge in the stalks: rhubarb can be a mild laxative.