Posted on June 17, 2011 - by

Wake Up and Smell the Rhubarb


Growing up in Minnesota, where snow often remains on the ground well into April, I anticipated the arrival of the first spring vegetables with an especially ravenous impatience. My parents grew green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupes, and pumpkins (accidentally), but before any of those were ready to eat, our garden grew brilliant with rhubarb. Their elephant ear leaves, big as my head, obscured thick vermillion stalks that gleamed like firepokers in the sun.

When the rhubarb grew ripe, Dad chopped the thick stalks into chunks like celery and the kitchen smelled fresh like a rainstorm. That was how I knew we would have crisp for dessert. Some evenings we ate it with vanilla ice cream, other nights in a rich puddle of half-and-half. I liked the crisp best fresh out of the oven, the warmed cream soaking up cinnamon and sugar. I drank it all, like cereal milk.

Grandma made rhubarb pies, their crusts redolent with nutmeg and the gentle porkiness of lard. An egg beaten into the filling prevented the juice from bursting Its banks. She packed so much rhubarb inside that the pie had altitude, rolling hills of spice-dusted crust on top.

I still love any dessert made with rhubarb, but have learned that it complements savory dishes just as well. Simmer diced rhubarb with ginger, garlic, sugar, spices, and cider vinegar to make a tangy chutney that you can serve with grilled cheese sandwiches or pork tenderloin; combine it with red lentils, cilantro, and chilies in a hearty curry, or puree it with strawberries, orange juice and sugar and chill for a refreshing summer soup.

The following recipe for rhubarb chutney comes from Loulies, my favorite source for simple seasonal recipes using whatever’s fresh locally here in DC.

Rhubarb Chutney

Makes about 2 cups

4 c. fresh rhubarb (about 1 pound)
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbls. minced peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbls. ground garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

Rinse and cut rhubarb into small pieces. Combine all ingredients, except rhubarb, in heavy large pot. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb, increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Place in a glass jar and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

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    June 30, 2011


    Leigh Merinoff said:

    Thanks for the rhubarb chutney recipe, I’ve had such a large harvest this year that I’m actually tired of rhubarb strawberry crisps and so look forward to trying out your chutney recipe. thank you. Please share other recipes if available. Leigh