Rhubarb is the quintessential late spring / early summer crop. You almost never find it in grocery stores, but it’s an early farmers market staple. I’m lucky enough that we have two rhubarb plants in our backyard, so I’ve been harvesting, cooking / baking with it and freezing it for weeks.
The first time I’d heard of rhubarb was in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The First Four Years”, the last book in “The Little House on the Prairie” series. My family was huge on “The Little House on the Prairie” and those books played a major role in my childhood. We took a very memorable family vacation to the small town in upstate NY (Malone) where Laura Ingalls’ husband Almanzo Wilder had grown up. I also read as a teenager all of the spin-off series that highlighted the lives and adventures of Laura’s daughter (Rose), her mother (Caroline), her grandmother (Charlotte), and her great grandmother (Martha). I was completely obsessed with historical fiction as a young reader.
“The First Four Years” is an unusual book from The Little House on the Prairie Series because it isn’t really written for children by tone. It really demonstrates the challenges and difficulties of her early married life in the Dakotas including natural disasters, debt, disease, and loss of their second child. It’s a pretty dark read and was wholly unedited and published post-mortem, so it is probably an indicator of what Ingalls’ writing in its pure sense looked like. For whatever reason, the story that sticks out to me the most in the book is when Laura makes a rhubarb pie for their boarders. She serves the rhubarb pie for dessert and it is immediately evident that she forgot to include the sugar in the recipe. She is mortified, but a kindly boarder scoops a spoonful of sugar into the pie and thanks Laura that they can add as much sugar as they’d like, as though she has done this as a courtesy. It was equal parts embarrassing (rhubarb pie sans sugar would truly be disgusting) and relatable to have had someone have your back and covered for you when you made a mistake.
Some of my favorite rhubarb recipes I’ve been enjoying this spring are below:
The Recipe: Roasted Rhubarb Salad from Kay Nutrition
Ingredients Needed: Rhubarb, Honey, Mixed Greens, Crumbly cheese (feta or goat cheese), chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans)
Rhubarb is technically a vegetable – it’s just somewhat rare to see if prepared like a vegetable as it is most often found in sweetened baked goods. It’s also an iconic and short-seasoned spring favorite! This roasted rhubarb salad does borrow some sweetness by roasting the stalks in honey and sea salt. The result is tender and flavorful. I like to pair roasted rhubarb with feta cheese and crunchy diced pecans.
The Recipe: Best Ever Rhubarb Bars from Chocolate with Grace
Ingredients Needed: Rhubarb, white flour, butter, powdered sugar, eggs, white sugar, salt
Rhubarb custard over a shortbread bar base? This bar is heavenly. This treat makes a 13×9 pan of decadent custard bars perfect for a backyard BBQ or graduation party. This recipe uses about double the rhubarb quantity of most recipes I’ve seen (4 cups) which is great to use up the full bunch you’ll likely find at a farmers market. Make sure to not overbeat your eggs AND to overcook vs. undercook these bars. The custard won’t set if you underbake!
Ingredients Needed: Rhubarb, sugar, lemon peel, tequila, vermouth, lime, (optional) bitters
This hot weather we’re experiencing calls for cold drinks. Channel your inner mixologist with this fun, in-season rhubarb cocktail! The only cooking required is 15 minutes or less: cooking down rhubarb into a flamingo pink simple syrup. We added one extra shot of rhubarb syrup to this recipe to lend a little bit more rhubarb flavor. Adding bitters does result in a more pink color final product, but it tastes great without, too!
The Recipe: Cinnamon-Rhubarb Muffins from Fine Cooking
Ingredients Needed: Flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, sour cream, butter, eggs, vanilla.
I like rhubarb recipes that let their tartness shine – these muffins certainly do! While the cinnamon sugar crunch keeps things sweet, these muffins let the tangy flavor of rhubarb stand out without over compensating with sugar.