Rhubarb – A “Firstfruit” of Spring

You know that spring has arrived when the first little red shoots of rhubarb poke through the ground!

Also called pie plant, this perennial has been around for many years. In the past it was used as a “spring tonic” to help stimulate the digestive system after a long winter of preserved foods. (I will vouch from personal experience that rhubarb does have that quality!)

Rhubarb just seemed to belong to our old farmstead, so I was surprised that we couldn’t find any.

I was even more surprised to find that I had trouble getting a patch started. Every year my mom would send us home with some roots to plant, and every year they would immediately die.

Finally one of our neighbors – who has a beautiful rhubarb patch – told me the secret. She said that rhubarb does not like to have its feet wet. All I needed to do was to mound up the dirt into a little hill before I planted the rhubarb.

It worked! My patch is finally looking nice and really producing!

Rhubarb can be picked just as soon as the stem is long enough. Just grab the stem and pull – it should just “pop” out. Then take a knife and hack off the poisonous leaves. (I leave them around the plants as a natural mulch.)

It’s important to never pick so much on a plant that the crown is exposed. I like to pick a few stalks off of each plant and then let them grow back. You can pick rhubarb until the weather warms up, then it will get bitter, but by then we’ve usually had plenty of rhubarb!

After you clean the stalks, they can be cut and used in many recipes or frozen to use in the winter.

To freeze rhubarb: wash the stems and cut into small sections. Place in a ziplock bag and freeze.  A quart bag is a good amount for a rhubarb pie.

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