Rhubarb is notable for its large, luxurious leaves. They are inedible, so in farm stands and markets you’ll find the stems trimmed of their leaves. Look for large, firm stalks, but know that different varieties range in color from mostly green to deep red.
Rhubarb is a classic early summer food in New England. Due to its association with sweet desserts, it’s often thought of as a fruit, but rhubarb is a perennial vegetable. The ruby red stalks are among the first plants to emerge in many home gardens, and if given reasonable care, the plants will survive decades, whether in a home garden or farm yard. Find fresh rhubarb stalks in bunches at farm stands, farmers’ markets, and supermarkets. Wrap rhubarb in damp paper towels and store in a bag in the fridge, where the stems will stay fresh for a week or so. (The ends of each piece might split and curl, but that’s fine, and those parts are still perfectly usable.) Rhubarb also freezes very well, so buy some to wash, chop, and freeze for later in the summer and fall!
“As energizing as an early June dip in Casco Bay”
Portland Press Herald columnist Peggy Grodinsky wrote in 2019, “Like cranberries, lemon and sumac (other ingredients I find it a pleasure to cook with), rhubarb offers a sour wallop in an American diet that has, at times, skewed sweet. It brings balance and interest to many an otherwise one-note dessert and liveliness to many a savory dish. After a winter diet of braised, brown, mellow foods that make one want to nap, it’s as energizing as an early June dip in Casco Bay.” Whether you’re a rhubarb fan or a sceptic, you’ll enjoy Peggy’s story about “the great rhubarb war,” which includes fun rhubarb facts. (Also, be sure not to miss her colleague Meredith Goad’s “Confessions of a Rhubarb Hater.”