Bebop-a-rebop Rhubarb Pie!
If you ever listen to Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor often performs this jingle about rhubarb pie. In fact, when most of us think of rhubarb, having it as pie is all we know. Yet, there are many other ways to enjoy this vegetable.
Often mistaken for a fruit because it is so frequently paired with strawberries, apples or peaches, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. Resembling red celery, this vegetable has a rich history going back to western China some five millennia ago, where it was used mostly for medicinal purposes. Thanks to its high fiber content, it was used to promote regularity and as a digestive for abdominal distention.
It made its way to America only in the last 300 years — first in Maine, then Massachusetts. At this point it was discovered that mixing this bitter stalk with fruit could transform this digestive into a delectable dessert.
Nutritionally, rhubarb is one of the best sources of vitamin K, necessary for healthy bone growth, forming blood clots and supporting the neuron function of the brain to prevent oxidation of brain cells. And rhubarb is a good source of vitamin C, B-vitamins and many minerals including calcium.
When choosing rhubarb, go for the deeper red stalks to cash in on vitamin A, and obtain a richer and sweeter flavor. Tenderness is not related to size so go more for the color. Be sure to choose firm stalks that are not shriveled or limp for maximum nutrition.
Unlike other vegetables with leafy green tops, you want to stay away from eating rhubarb leaves. They have a very high amount of oxalic acid, which are toxic to the body.
Rhubarb is usually cooked, but can be consumed raw, or frozen for later use. It sweetens when cooked slowly, such as stewed or baked. Most often, rhubarb is cooked sweetened with sugar, which can add a lot of empty calories. For a different treat, try baking with apples, peaches or strawberries and a sprinkling of cinnamon and ginger.
Granted, rhubarb pie is as American as fried chicken. In the words of Mr. Keillor, “nothing gets the taste of humiliation out of your mouth like a piece of rhubarb pie”. I’ll eat to that!