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, “the first harvest of the season.” Rhubarb- a New England Farmhouse Favorite.
Rhubarb remains one of those mysterious plants which those living in the northeast have grown to love. Rhubarb’s history spans the globe from antiquity in China and the Roman Empire, to the settlers crossing the sea to the New World. Historically, the dried root aided in curing a number of illnesses. It seems that it wasn’t until sometime in the 1800’s that it entered into culinary dishes. Rumor has it that Benjamin Franklin brought the first rhubarb to America where others claim that a farmer in Maine carried the first plant from Europe.
I remember as a child hearing my grandmother rant and rave over rhubarb. She grew up in New England where rhubarb thrived in the cool temperatures of the early spring. As a child I thought what could possibly be appealing about a sour tasting stalk with a deadly leaf on the end of it? Then, when I was in my mid twenties, we moved to Vermont where rhubarb abounds in gardens, abandoned fields, and in nearly every back yard. With the help of my neighbor, I quickly became smitten with this odd plant. When we purchased our first old Vermont farmhouse, my neighbor gave me a cutting from her rhubarb plant to take with me. Though we have long moved from that house, the rhubarb in my garden today comes from that original cutting more than twenty years ago.
Rhubarb a northern perennial, grows best in cool climates. Long pink and green stalks shoot straight up from the ground with large green leaves on top. To harvest the rhubarb, you grasp the stalk at the base, near the ground, and gently twist and pull at the same time. Some seem wary of the plant as the leaf of the rhubarb is highly toxic with oxalic acid. Care must be taken to discard of the leaf when harvesting. Rhubarb has a short growing season, lasting only a few weeks. To extend your culinary use of rhubarb, it freezes well by chopping it and placing it in a zip lock bag.
My children grew up knowing all about rhubarb as I cultivated their interest in the plant from an early age. As toddlers, they could be seen walking through the garden wearing a large rhubarb leaf as a hat while chewing on the sour stalk. They loved my Rhubarb Sauce over ice cream after dinner and Rhubarb Jam on their morning toast. Rhubarb Strawberry Muffins, though, are a favorite with the farmstay guests at Grand View Farm.
Rhubarb Strawberry Muffins
- 1 cup chopped rhubarb
- 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
- 2 large eggs (preferably Farm fresh)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- zest of one small orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper cups.
- Sift flour and baking powder together. Add evaporated cane juice or sugar. Stir in the orange zest, frozen strawberries and chopped rhubarb. Set aside.
- Beat eggs in a bowl, then add the milk, orange juice, melted butter, and vanilla. Combine with the dry ingredients and stir gently being careful not to over mix.
- Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on top and the center of the muffin springs back when touched. Cool in tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack.
- Use your favorite gluten free baking mix in the place of flour for a gluten free muffin.
- Use chopped candied ginger in place of the orange zest.
- Use coconut oil in the place of butter and add a handful of unsweetened coconut in the place of the orange zest.
In Kim Goodling’s New England garden, rhubarb abounds. There she welcomes farmstay guests to visit her sheep farm and experience her rhubarb muffins. You can find Kim on instagram @vtgrandviewfarm and read about her farm on her blog Living with Gotlands.