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One of my sweetest summer memories revolves around one of the sourest of fruits. On warm days a few of us, barely out of kindergarten, would trundle into a neighbour’s yard carrying a large bowl of sugar. There we would pull out shoots of rhubarb, rip off the dirty ends and plunge the stalks into the sugar. As we chewed, the mixture of sour and sweet would slowly turn into a wonderful jam. That the neighbour might come out and find a crew of local delinquents in her garden only made the spoils sweeter. A little adrenalin improves the palate.

Those on my block will be glad to know that I have stopped stealing the neighbours’ fruit. Now, in fact, we usually have too much of our own rhubarb and not nearly enough ideas of what to do with it. But I haven’t lost my love for its flavour.

A stalk of rhubarb looks like pink celery with a large green leaf. The roots and the leaf aren’t eaten and are poisonous. The stalk, however, has plenty of fibre and Vitamin C. Ancient Chinese used it for medicine. In Italy a drink called rarbarbaro is served as a health tonic.

Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable. But according to The Oxford Companion to Food, in 1947, the US Custom’s Court in Buffalo NY ruled that it was a fruit so that is the way we buy it.

In Poland, rhubarb is served as a salad with shredded carrots, sugar, a little salt and sour cream. In Iran, where many dishes have a tart edge, it is added to stews.

Stewed alone, it looses some of the sour tang although most people add sugar. Mix acup of chopped rhubarb with two tablespoos of sugar. Let this stand until some juice is released and then stew it covered over low heat until it is tender. If sugar is a concern, braise chopped rhubarb in a little water until it is very soft and add a teaspoon of fructose when it is cool. Serve with whipped cream or on vanilla ice cream. Chopped rhubarb is also superb paired with strawberries in a pie or crumble.

I like it as a chutney. It tastes great with meat or spread on nut bread with a little cream cheese. Here’s the recipe: Take 8 cups diced rhubarb, 7 cups of sugar, 4 cups cider vinegar, 2 cups diced onion, 2 cups raisins, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, 1 inch fresh ginger grated. Put everything in a heavy pot. Cook gently until thick and dark, about 5 hours.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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