By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

The tart taste of rhubarb is a nostalgic one to me, bringing me back to summer days in Ohio, my mother tending to our family garden. I have fond memories of her clipping off a few stalks of rhubarb, washing them, and filling a bowl of sugar for me and my brothers to dip the crisp sticks into as a mid-day treat.

Rhubarb, a perennial vegetable typically used as if it were a fruit, is one of the first plants to be harvested in the springtime. The stalks range in color from pink to bright red, often streaked with stripes of green. They resemble celery, though the two are unrelated. When harvesting, look for longer, thinner stalks—they will be the sweetest and most tender. The large, flat leaves at the tips of the plant are poisonous if ingested, containing oxalic acid, a compound used in metal polish and stain removers.

The flavor of rhubarb is bracingly tart on its own, but preparing with a sweetener like sugar and honey can help balance the cheek-puckering flavor. Cooking the vegetable also helps to bring out the natural sugars present in the plant.

Though I have admittedly never purchased rhubarb—I always have it in my garden—fresh stalks will likely be available at your local farmers’ market or grocery store during the months of May and June. I highly recommend planting some in your garden. It re-grows annually, it’s low maintenance, and nothing beats free, fresh garden-grown food.

The uses for rhubarb are endless—I’ve made everything from pies to curds, sauces to side dishes, and even cocktails. It can most definitely be used in both sweet or savory applications, sweet being the most common. If you’re going this route, be sure to add plenty of sugar to balance out the tart flavor of the rhubarb. Roasting rhubarb brings out the natural sugars in the plant, and provides a great, unexpected topping to a fresh salad.

Sidebar:

Spring Rhubarb Salad

4 cups loosely packed spinach
2-3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons honey
¼ red onion, very thinly sliced
¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
3 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss the rhubarb with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out onto a baking sheet and drizzle with honey. Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until slightly soft and caramelized. Allow to cool.

Wash and dry the spinach well. Toss with the remaining ingredients and your favorite vinaigrette; a balsamic version pairs nicely with this salad.