By Geneva Langeland, Michigan Sea Grant communications editor
Rhubarb is a familiar spring and summer sight in Michigan. The pink-red stalks might support huge green leaves in a backyard garden, or show up in a bundle at the local farmer’s market. While rhubarb leaves are toxic, the tart stalks make an excellent addition to baked goods when balanced by the right amount of sweetness from sugar or other fruit (strawberry-rhubarb pie, anyone?). Rhubarb often shows up in recipes for sweet breads, cakes, pies, and crumbles. I even throw rhubarb into my breakfast smoothies!
When harvesting rhubarb, choose stalks that are at least a foot long. Grab the stalk low down and pull gently until the stem pops out of its socket at the plant’s base. If you’re worried about disturbing the plant, you can cut the stems with a knife instead. You may harvest multiple stems from a single plant, and you can harvest multiple times throughout the spring and summer, but be sure the plant has enough time and leaves to rejuvenate between pickings. Also, if you’re new to this, make sure that what you’re harvesting is actually rhubarb: burdock, skunk cabbage, and some other Michigan plants can have similarly large leaves but won’t make a great addition to your pie or crumble.
To bake with rhubarb, cut off and discard the leaves. Rinse the stems and remove any debris near the base. The pink-red skin on the stems is paper-thin and safe to eat, but it may leave little fibrous trails when you slice the stem, a bit like celery. If that’s annoying, you can use a vegetable peeler or knife to strip off the skin. Otherwise, chop away!
In May, I harvested some rhubarb from my aunt and uncle’s garden and whipped up two batches of plant-based rhubarb muffins using this fantastic recipe from Jeni on her Thyme and Love blog. The recipe uses coconut oil and non-dairy milk (I opted for almond milk) for the batter, plus a dollop of vegan butter in the cinnamon-sugar topping. They received rave reviews from my non-vegan relatives and disappeared quickly at our Memorial Weekend gathering.
Rather than copying the ingredients and instructions here, I encourage you to pop over to the muffin recipe page on Thyme and Love. While you’re there, be sure to check out Jeni’s other great plant-based recipes!