Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

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The reason for the heading is that in British dramas you often find spear-carriers mumbling same to simulate chatter. Characters from the Goon Show (which is where Peter Sellers got his start) used the noise to great comedic effect. Here we'll use it to denote information on growing the stuff. But first another slight digression: British kids take rhubarb stalks (sans leaves, which are poisonous), strip off the skin and dip the peeled stalk into little bowls of sugar. The sourness and juiciness of the rhubarb and sweetness of the sugar are wonderful. Well, to a Brit brought up on it they are. Maybe it's like Marmite. However, when chunks of rhubarb are stewed with slices of tart apple and baked, with plenty of sugar, in a pie--or just served stewed with custard sauce (hot or cold)--the result is ambrosial.

Here's the promised growing info, summarized from the March 1994 issue of Horticulture.

Rhubarb is a herbaceous perennial, handsome enough to grow in the front yard. The ideal climate is cool and moist in summer with a good freeze in winter (where the ground is frozen to a depth of several inches). Milder area gardeners should try the varieties Giant Cherry and Strawberry.

Rhubarb is usually grown from divisions rather than seed. The best way to find some is to beg from a neighbor (if it grows for your neighbor it will probably grow for you too.) But you may also find it at nurseries, mail order and local. (Search the Web.)

The site for rhubarb should be in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. Choose a permanent spot as the rhubarb will live for many years. Perhaps the north side of the vegetable garden, where it won't shade other plants, can be found. Loosen the soil to a depth of 10 inches, removing weeds as you dig. Mix in several good handfuls of compost and well-aged manure for each plant, plus a handful of high-phosphorous-potassium fertilizer (5-10-10).

Happily, rhubarb has very few enemies. But plant away from dock which harbors the rhubarb curculio.

You can't harvest until the second year and then only lightly. But after that, you may cut stalks for a full two months. Although the leaves are inedible and poisonous, they may be composted as the toxins break down during the process.

While you wait for your plants to mature, buy some stalks at the grocery stalk later this spring and taste this wonderful, vitamin-rich treat.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), April 24, 1999


My mother used to grow rhubarb, which is very pretty, and then make the best rhubard/strawberry pies. I haven't had one in ages. But our climate, here in the lower Midwest, has warmed up so much that we hardly have winter anymore, and our summers the past three years have been brutal.

Thanks for all your gardening information. I subscribed to Organic Gardening for years, but I gave all my old issue away to a book sale. I must check their website.

-- gilda (jess@listbot.com), April 24, 1999.

Yes rhubarb is truly nectar of the gods for the northern gardener, even me with only 90 frost free days (imagine!!), if your stuck for fertilizer, bury fish heads and the like, fairly close to the roots and bang! phenomonal growth.

-- Will (sibola@hotmail.com), April 24, 1999.

Growing up in Canada, I could hardly wait for spring to arrive so my mother could take advantage of our rhubarb patch. I put the stewed rhubarb on everything from mashed potatoes to ice cream. Thanks Old Git for that old taste I now have.

-- thinkIcan (thinkIcan@make.it), April 24, 1999.

This brings back memories of my mother making rhubarb marmalade - I haven't had any in years, but it makes me want to make a batch soon. Besides rhubarb the ingredients were oranges, lemons, rinds, raisins and naturally quite a bit of sugar. The color was brownish, and that turned off some in the family, but once you tasted it you were hooked. If anyone is interested in the recipe I will post it here (or email it to anyone). Thanks for jogging my memory, Old Git.

-- Arlene (araynor@concentric.net), April 24, 1999.

Quality Farmand Fleet, Kmart, DIY centers, etc. Roots for you. Make sure you use the sugar dip for the first few bites. My mouth is already cramping from the memory of the "tartness" WHOOOEEEE! One of my favorite summer signs!!!!


-- chuck, a Night Driver (rienzoo@en.com), April 24, 1999.

Thanks for the posting OG, Marmite, yes, but don't forget Ovaltine :-)

Arlene, rhubarb marmalade sounds wonderful, please do post the recipe - this year I can still get oranges and lemons and raisins. Sometimes I really don't look forward to life in the great white after 2K :-(

-- Tricia the Canuck (jayles@telusplanet.net), April 24, 1999.

Old Git, I've read your posts with pleasure for some months now. Many thanks! I have two questions: 1) Are there any varieties of rhubarb that can grow in Florida? My wife is originally from North Yorkshire, and sometimes she gets a bit homesick, especially for "comfort foods" she grew up with. She often speaks fondly of rhubarb pie, and such comfort foods may help in the stressfull times to come. I've found sources for cans of Mushy Peas, Branston Pickle, etc., but the only rhubarb I've found is from occasional bags in the frozen section of our supermarket. 2) If it can't grow here, how do you think frozen rhubarb would stand up as a thawed, dried product? I've tried drying celery (sp), and it was awfull when rehydrated. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

A Yank (in Dixie) who loves a Britt,


-- spindoctor (spindoc_99_2000@yahoo.com), April 24, 1999.

Hello, Spindoc! Well, don't you have good taste in women? I was brought up in the West Riding, Sheffield to be precise (you know, Full Monty country, on the edge of James Herriot country), although born in Robin Hood/D. H. Lawrence country. There are some British food suppliers on the Web--I'd give you the URLs but haven't replaced them since I blew up my bookmarks file. Anyway, they may very well have tinned rhubarb. You might try canning the stuff yourself, but check with the local Ag Extension Svce to see if it's high acid enough. Otherwise you might be able to make and can "pie filling" by adding sugar and making it something like a preserve. Just guessing, don't know. And can't experiment, They won't let me have sugar any more.

You might try those varieties mentioned above, but I don't think you'll have much luck. Still, it's worth a try, especially if you stick it in a north-north-east corner where it can get a bit of morning sun. The guy who lives behind me here in Durham, NC, grows rhubarb without any problem but he doesn't know what kind it is. Still, it's not Florida and we do get the occasional frost.

You have to get inventive here, Spindoc, how about gently digging in ice cubes around the plant for a few days each January, replacing them when they melt (if you have ice, of course). I know how it is to miss a familiar food--you'll try anything! You should have seen me making bangers before I became a weed-eater!

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), April 25, 1999.

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