Mention the word rhubarb to a true Midwesterner and you will see a starry-eyed look and a big silly grin on their face. I did not grow up eating rhubarb, so I really don’t understand this love affair with the stalky red vegetable. I remember my very first spring in Wisconsin after moving here from California. It was a lot like this year, a cold winter followed by a long cold, rainy spring. When the sun finally warmed up I was dazzled by all the rhubarb desserts that showed up at the SHARE potlucks. Now I know that, for Midwesterners, eating rhubarb is an important seasonal ritual.
When Mike and I moved to Richfield our house came with a beautiful rhubarb patch. As inexperienced as I was with it, I found growing rhubarb pretty simple. I just wish I liked it better– I give most of it away! However, I do make at least one rhubarb dessert each year, just to strengthen my Midwestern experience. I’ve included my recipe for Rhubarb-Apple Crisp in this post.
Here are just a few important tips to keep your rhubarb coming on strong, year after year.
- Your rhubarb patch will enjoy a dose of fertilizer that’s high in organic matter, like compost or well-rotted manure. Fertilize early in spring when the ground is thawed enough to work it in.
- Harvest stalks when they are strong and red by grasping a stalk close to the base and gently, but firmly, pulling it up. Pulling, rather than cutting, helps the plant continue to produce. Harvest when the stalks are young and tender. Older stalks tend to get stringy and tough.
- The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous to people and pets, so discard those. It’s ok to put
them in your compost pile.
- To keep the plant producing, remove the seed stalk as soon as it appears. Again, grasp the stalk near the base and pull it out.
- Rhubarb likes cooler weather. If it gets too hot and the stalks look floppy it may need more water.
- In the fall, clear away and spent leaves. Once the ground freezes cover with a good mulch, like shredded leaves or covering hay.
- You can divide rhubarb when it first comes up in spring. I’ve never done this, but maybe next year I’ll give it a try!
- 3 Cups rhubarb sliced into ¾ inch pieces
- 3 Cups granny smith apples, peeled and chopped
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- ¾ Cup flour
- 1 ½ Cup sugar
- ½ Cup flour
- ½ Cup brown sugar
- 1 stick very cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 Cup old fashioned rolled oats
- ½ Tsp cinnamon
- ¼ Tsp nutmeg
- Cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Lightly butter a 13x9 baking dish, or use vegetable spray.
- Place rhubarb and apples in baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and sugar. Toss together with your hands. (I saw Martha Stewart do this, so it’s ok!)
- Make topping as described below. Sprinkle on top of rhubarb-apple mixture.
- Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 35-45 minutes. When done, topping will be golden brown and juices will be bubbly.
- Cool for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.
- To make topping using a food processor: Place flour and cold butter in bowl of food processor and pulse 3-4 times until well combined. Add brown sugar and oats and pulse 2-3 times. Add spices and nuts and pulse 1-2 more times. Do not over mix. The topping should be crumbly.
- To make topping without a food processor: Cut together flour and butter until it is well combined, it will be about the size of peas. Mix in brown sugar and oats until well combined. Stir in spices and nuts. Do not over mix. The topping should be crumbly.
I like a 50:50 ratio of rhubarb to apples, but change this to suit your own taste or based on how much fruit you have on hand. When I made the crisp pictured I had some strawberries that needed to be used, so my fruit mix was 3 cups rhubarb, 1 cup thickly sliced strawberries, 2 cups apples.