While the New England garden lays bare in the unpredictable May weather, one plant bursts forth with much enthusiasm~Rhubarb. This past weekend, our farmstay guest asked,”What is that?” when she saw the lush plant filled with pink and green stalks in our herb garden. “Rhubarb,” my husband responds proudly, “New England’s first harvest.” That one plant that New Englander’s long for when the snow melts and new green fills the landscape. When they are hungry for something fresh, something homegrown, something that speaks spring, rhubarb sends her stalks shooting from the ground. Almost every old farmhouse all across the northeastern states has a little patch of rhubarb somewhere on the property.
The rhubarb plant dates back to antiquity, commonly found in ancient China and the Roman Empire. The origins of New England’s rhubarb plants, date back to the early 1700’s. Rumor has it that Benjamin Franklin made sure the Quakers brought rhubarb seed with them to the new world.
My rhubarb plants came from an elderly woman named Hester who lived in Northfield, Vermont. Twenty some years ago, when we moved to Vermont, my garden fence backed up to Hester’s meticulous garden. Handing stalks of rhubarb over the fence to me, she insisted that my southern blood needed to taste this curious vegetable. She would stand on her side of the fence, teaching me everything I needed to know about gardening and rhubarb. From those stalks, a relationship grew. When we purchased our first old farmhouse, Hester took her shovel and dug a piece of her rhubarb plant for me to take with me. “Every farmhouse needs some rhubarb,” she said as she handed it over the fence.
Twenty some years later, my rhubarb from Hester still grows with memories of my early years to New England. Each time I pull a stalk, I remember Hester. Through the years, I have subdivided my rhubarb and spread it around to other farmhouses, telling the recipient my story of Hester. Since that initial introduction to this amazing plant, I have found countless ways to enjoy its harvest.
- Thanksgiving Dressing
- Rhubarb Jam
- Rhubarb Sauce
- Rhubarb Pancakes
- Rhubarb Crisp
- Rhubarb Muffins
- Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
- 3 pounds chopped rhubarb
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- zest of one small orange
- 1-2 cups of evaporated sugar cane (sweeten to your preference)
- Combine the water, orange juice, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until all sugar is dissolved and syrup is just beginning to boil.
- Add the chopped rhubarb and cook for 4-6 minutes until the rhubarb is just soft. Put a lid on the saucepan, remove it from the heat, and let it sit until the sauce has cooled.
- Serve over ice cream, yogurt, waffles, or your favorite cake.