Rhubarb: Memories and New Inspirations

When I was young, my grandfather lived in the country near Rochester, Minnesota, and had an abundant vegetable garden. Walking down its paths in the spring, you would see what would be rows of carrots, greens, potatoes, eggplant, a trellis where the french beans would climb, and then, in the corner of the garden, a huge rhubarb plant, already lush and green. I remember pulling up a stalk of that rhubarb with all my might. Dipping it in sugar I would crunch into it and pucker my lips as its juice ran down my chin. Its taste always reminds me of this childhood happiness. I must say this is still my favorite way to eat rhubarb—there is a spontaneous joy in picking a stalk, cutting off the leaves, and eating it then and there. Yesterday afternoon, I was in the Linden Hills Coop in Minneapolis and saw one of the cashiers sitting at a table taking her break. I smiled when I noticed she was dipping long pieces of rhubarb in a little cup of sugar.

When rhubarb comes into season, thoughts of strawberry rhubarb pies and crisps come to mind. I live in a community house and now that the rhubarb is ripe in our garden, the refrigerator has become instantly filled with strawberries. While combining these two fruits produces desserts that are sure to be yummy and always pleasing, there are many other ways to enjoy the unique flavors of rhubarb. Here are some new recipes that I have been working with this Spring/early Summer:


Rhubarb Salsa


Subtle flavors of rhubarb and cumin bring a unique and delicious twist to this fresh spring salsa.

2 cups chopped rhubarb

1/2 cup diced red pepper

1/2 cup diced yellow pepper

4 or 5 green onions

jalapeno pepper

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 cup cilantro 

2 Tablespoons  fresh lime juice

drizzle of olive oil

generous dash of cumin

fine sea salt to taste

black pepper to taste


Before chopping the rhubarb remove some or their more obvious outer strings. Combine all the ingredients in a glass bowl, be sure to add half of the jalapeno first and try it to see how hot it is.


Rhubarb iced tea


A refreshing drink for a hot day, try over ice with fresh mint or rosemary. 


about 10 stalks of rhubarb cut into 2 inch pieces

8 cups of water

1/3 or desired amount cup sugar


Bring the water and rhubarb to a boil and let then simmer for about an hour. Stir in sugar until it desolves and put it in the refrigerator to chill.


Rhubarb Cream Cake

1 cup white flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 cup butter, softened 

1/3 cup sugar 

2 eggs 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1/3 cup milk   


3 cups chopped rhubarb 

1/2 cup sugar 

1 cup heavy cream Pour into the pan.


Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt with a wire whisk. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly add flour alternately with milk and mix until smooth. Sprinkle rhubarb, sugar, and pour cream on top. Bake 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Let cool 15 min before cutting and garnish with fresh mint.


Since it is so easy to grow, try it yourself. You might even get a neighbor to share his plant with you. Here is a simple summary about the nature of rhubarb and its care.


Rhubarb will thrive for 8 to 10 years or more if you take care of it. The plants like moisture, so keep them watered but do not over do it or the roots will begin to rot. In the spring, you can put some mulch on the surrounding soil, which will help seal in the moisture. When harvesting rhubarb, snap the stalk off at the base rather than cutting it. This way it is less susceptible to disease. And be sure not to eat the leaves—they're poisonous. If you only harvest half your rhubarb at any given time it will help it to keep growing, extending the harvest. After 4 or 5 years the quality of your rhubarb will often decrease because it becomes overcrowded. This is when you can divide the plant with a shovel, but make sure you wait until the second year to harvest it in order to let its root system develop. At the end of the season after the first frost, cut back your rhubarb plant and cover it with mulch or straw. Rhubarb plants like cold weather which is why they do so well in Minnesota. It's hard to go wrong with rhubarb, but these are some good easy tips to keep in mind to insure success.


Lizzie Holzapfel is a Yogi, food lover and writer. She lives in South Minneapolis and can be reached at: