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Pucker up for the pie plant (rhubarb)

Fresh rhubard is available now at farmers' markets in the local area
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  
Rhubarb, sometimes called pie plant, is a one of the first crops ready for harvest in mid to late spring.  It grows easily in Oregon.

Rhubarb, a.k.a. pie plant - you either love it or you don't. If you are one who loves it, you should be celebrating now, as the new spring crop is up and ready to eat.

I'm the only rhubarb fan in my household, so my one plant produces enough to satisfy my craving for rhubarb pie and a few rhubarb related dishes. I love rhubarb's tartness and its pretty pink color. It's hard to understand why others won't give it a try.

Rhubarb is usually considered a vegetable and is similar in appearance to celery. It's one of the first food plants to be ready for harvest in mid to late spring, and production continues through September. It will grow year-round in warm climates, but in our area, the aboveground portion of the plant completely withers away at the onset of freezing weather. The plant grows from the root when warm weather returns.

Rhubarb can be grown in pots, provided the container is large enough to accommodate a season's growth. It's a perennial plant, the farmer's dream. Once it takes hold, you can count on harvesting the food every year.

The stalks are what we eat; the large triangular shaped leaves are actually poisonous.

The variety I have growing in my yard is light green in color now, at the early part of the season. As we get further into summer the stalks will become pink or green tinged with crimson. The color indicates the presence of anthocyanins, which give the rhubarb its astringent taste.

Anthocyanins have been shown to act as a 'sunscreen' protecting the plant cells from high light damage by absorbing blue-green and UV light, protecting the tissues from high light stress. Anthocyanins are also powerful antioxidants.

If rhubarb is a new food for your family, I suggest you try the sauce in the Five:30 recipe first. Serve it over vanilla ice cream or on Sunday morning waffles.

The Black Sea Bass with Sweet and Sour Orange Rhubarb Sauce is elegant enough for company, and simple enough to make as a weeknight dinner.

Try both while fresh rhubarb is readily available at your farmers' market and grocery stores.

Speaking of farmers, the 2011 schedule of the Plate and Pitchfork Dinners was released just a few days ago. Plate and Pitchfork dinners give Portland area diners an opportunity to eat amazing foods grown on local farms and prepared by celebrated local chefs. A portion of the proceeds for the dinner tickets is contributed to organizations that support small farms, environmental literacy and food security. This year Oregon Tilth's Organic Education Center at our own Luscher Farm is one of the beneficiaries of the funds.

Check out www.plateandpitchfork.com to learn more about the Plate to Pitchfork Dinners today - they fill fast!

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Black Sea Bass with Sweet and Sour Orange Rhubarb Sauce

Makes 6 servings

4 navel oranges

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 tablespoons mild honey

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 (14-15 oz.) can diced tomatoes including juice

¼ teaspoon black pepper

6 black sea bass fillets with skin and small bones removed (about 6 to 8 oz. each)

¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Arrange oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375° F.

Cut peel, including white pitch, from 3 oranges with a small sharp knife. Working over a bowl, cut segments free from membranes. Squeeze juice from membranes into bowl. Drain off as much juice as possible from segments into a measuring cup. Squeeze enough juice from remaining orange to total 2/3 cup of juice.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil with butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until butter is melted, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, 18-20 minutes.

While onion is caramelizing, cook rhubarb, honey, 1/3 cup orange juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is very tender, about 12 minutes. Force mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl, scraping and pressing hard on solids and discarding them.

Add ginger and cinnamon to onion and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add remaining 1/3-cup orange juice and boil until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in rhubarb puree, tomatoes, pepper and ½ teaspoon salt and briskly simmer, stirring occasionally until sauce is thickened slightly, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

While sauce simmers, grease a 17x12 inch glass or ceramic baking dish with remaining tablespoon oil. Pat fish dry and sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Arrange fish, skin sides up, in 1 layer in baking dish and bake until opaque and just cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir orange segments into sauce and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes, and season with salt. Stir mint into sauce and serve with fish.

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2006

Five:30

A five-ingredient dish ready in 30 seconds or less.

This delicious sauce is perfect over angel food cake, waffles or pancakes or ice cream. Try it over grilled chicken, too!

Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote with Fresh Mint

Makes about 3 cups

3 cups 1/2 -inch wide pieces fresh rhubarb (about 1 pound)

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup water

1 pint container fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Combine rhubarb, sugar and water in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Simmer gently until rhubarb is tender but not falling apart, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in strawberries. Transfer to bowl and stir in mint. Chill until cold.

Adapted from Bon Appetite Test Kitchen, May 2008

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..