Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rhubarb - Is it a Fruit or Vegetable?

~ red fleshed rhubarb ~
 I find there is almost nothing better in the spring than that first bite of fresh rhubarb. Cooked with the last remaining berries from the freezer into a compote that can be used on anything from toast, yogurt, pork chops or in a smoothie in the morning - or, you can do what I do & freeze as much of it as possible to use later in the summer with other freshly picked berries in jams or wines. Last year's 'best blend' was blackberries & rhubarb!

The question most people have is: Is it a fruit or vegetable?

I guess that depends on how you view the difference -not that it really matters. I did check it out on Wikipedia, which said: "Rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. A side effect was a reduction on imported rhubarb tariffs, as tariffs were higher for vegetables than fruits."
~ plant under bucket ~

I have 2 varieties of rhubarb - of course, I couldn't tell you which was which, nor what the names of the varieties are (I have since learned now to keep better records). One variety has deep red flesh & the other has flesh that remains green or a light pink. I pick my stalks when they are nice & tall & firm. If the stalks are weak & soft, they probably won't taste as sharp & tangy as healthy stalk. I always leave at least one stalk in leaf on each bud that the crown produces.

Usually in February when I'm running around in the spring sunshine cleaning up the yard, I will see the plants start to bud up. I'll clean around the plant, removing weeds & old compost & then apply a fresh layer of compost - a layer of stuff from the composter & then some fresh kitchen scraps. Next I'll pop on a bucket or a tote to encourage the plants to start producing earlier.

~ plant under tote ~

What the tote or bucket does is warm up the air surrounding the plant & it removes the available light to the newly sprouted leaf tips. The stalks will grow tall, searching for light, but the leaves will remain small. As you know, the stalks are what we want to eat & the leaves are not.

 I check them periodically, because there are small slugs that do happen to live in this damp & very rich environment. I flick them off, but for the most part, they just munch on the leaves.

As you can see with the plant under the tote, it has outgrown its cover. That means I get my first harvest! I just gently pull on the stalk, close down to the crown so that I don't just break it off.

~ light coloured flesh plant ~

 While I'm still at the plant, I break off the leaves & put them around the plant - or you can put them under your rhododendrons, as I've read somewhere that the rhubarb leaves keep certain critters away from rhodos... I do that later in the season when the leaves are much larger.

I'm leaving the covers off my plants for a bit - probably a week or so & then I'll put the covers back on & wait for my next chance to harvest some early rhubarb.

~ sliced rhubarb ready to eat or freeze for later ~

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