Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb!

Credit: Carolyn Herriot

Rheum rhaponticum, rhubarb, is a member of the Polygonaceae family, first introduced to Canada from Asia.

It’s a long-lived, hardy perennial that’s virtually pest and disease-free, and is easy to grow if you remember one thing – feed it with lots of well-rotted manure! Rhubarb is a gutsy feeder and performs best when grown in soils rich in organic matter. Rhubarb leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and should never be eaten or fed to livestock, but can be safely added to the compost pile.

Rhubarb Spray for Aphid Control

Make a spray to get rid of aphids by boiling three pounds of rhubarb leaves in three quarts of water. Strain this and add one ounce of soap flakes, dissolved in one quart of water. Before spraying, do a test patch.

Rhubarb can be harvested for a period of eight to ten weeks during spring. Harvest the stalks when they are between one and two feet long, and before they become tough.

TIP: Pull stalks off the crown with a twisting motion, rather than cutting them off. By mid-summer, stop harvesting, as not only does rhubarb get sour from a build-up of oxalic acid, but it’s best to leave some foliage on the plant to feed the roots.

To keep the crowns producing, divide them every three years. It’s best to divide rhubarb in the fall, and replant it with plenty of manure or compost to help it re-establish by spring. Divide the crowns so that you have pieces with at least two or three good buds on them. Replant these three feet apart, with the crowns buried three inches deep. TIP: Not harvesting any fruit the first year from newly divided rhubarb means more fruit the next year. Remove seed heads when they appear, to direct energy back to the roots and leaves.

Foolproof One Crust Rhubarb Pie
It doesn’t matter how rough this pie appears when it goes into the oven, it always looks fantastic when it comes out!

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)

12 ounces of shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten
3 Tbsp. semolina

1 pound rhubarb cut into one-inch pieces
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1-2 pieces preserved ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped (or substitute candied ginger)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
2 Tbsp. turbinado sugar

Roll out pastry into a 14-inch circle. Transfer onto a baking sheet. Brush a little egg yolk over the pastry. Scatter semolina over the centre, leaving a wide rim all around.

Mix rhubarb pieces, sugar and ginger in a large bowl. Pile onto the middle of the pastry circle. Fold the pastry rim roughly over the filling so that it meets in the middle and almost covers it. Some of the fruit will remain visible in the middle.

Glaze the pastry with the remaining egg yolk and scatter the hazelnuts and turbinado sugar over the top. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.

TIP: Freeze rhubarb you don’t use fresh. It keeps well frozen for up to a year, and there’s nothing better than serving up a bowl of piping hot rhubarb crisp in the middle of winter.

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