Rhubarb always seemed kind of exotic to me. Kind of weird and dangerous. I never saw any in the flesh until I moved from So Cali to New England. There was then a good sized patch of it at the farmhouse where we lived.
I was in charge of the vegetable garden, the asparagus bed and the raspberry patches. Being 17, I was lazy and pretty much sucked at all of it. Those plants had to fend for themselves. I was good about planting and harvesting, but not much else. The harvesting could even be a challenge. I would try to harvest the berries, wrapping newspapers around my legs before I put on my jeans and boots. That kept the bees and wasps from stinging me as I waded through. I do remember seeing the rhubarb come up, and unfold with it’s great big leaves and bright red stalks. I didn’t actually eat any of it. My rescue mom baked a pie or two. I heard that the leaves were poisonous, and that was it for me. Sorry dude; Not worth dieing over!
Since then I’ve come to appreciate the tart, bold flavor. When we moved to our latest abode I was surprised to see some pop up right by the kitchen door. It also appeared in a few places on the bike path nearby (oh- not that I would ever poach or anything…). I may not be an expert on all things- okay, on most anything, but I knew this was rhubarb. I know that it comes in many variations; some stems are red, some red with green and some are pretty much a nasty green-brown color. There were the reddish greenish kind. Then, before I could act on my baser impulse, some jerk stole all the rhubarb that was growing by the bike path! So annoying! All I had were the few stalks by my kitchen door. This wild rhubarb has skinny stalks, so it didn’t add up to much. I decided to make some jam, but instead of strawberry/rhubarb, I decided to make a rhubarb-citrus marmalade. I found a recipe that was sort of like what I wanted. It had oranges, rhubarb, lemon and sugar. I also added a little lime. It was clean-out-the-fridge- time and I was on a roll. The stuff was so strange- I wish I had a picture. Didn’t have my thinking cap on. Basically it looked like baby food with chunks. Or worse, if you know what I mean. That didn’t stop me from trying it; it was delicious! Just close your eyes, shut up and eat. The weird thing is that even months later, the rhubarb never got mushy. It stayed crunchy. That’s just not what rhubarb does! Maybe, it’s what wild rhubarb does (aha).
Okay- not aha. Big freakin not. Guess what I just found out??? That rhubarb has a twin. Check this out: It’s called burdock. It’s got the same big green leaves. The same (skinny though) reddish greenish stalks. It is edible (yeah- fine time to figure that out!). However, it tastes nothing like rhubarb. It’s becoming popular with some survivalists who grow it for it’s greens and stems as well as it’s roots. Now, all of these photos look a lot alike to me. Can you really see a big difference? I can’t either. The way to tell them apart is to break open the stems. Burdock stems are hollow ( I thought I had some water deprived rhubarb). Also, rhubarb has a tangy smell and taste; while burdock is bland.
I’ve been fooled. What a rube! What a rhuboob! I’m going to have to buy my rhubarb at the farmers market. I did kind of like that burdock citrus marmalade, however….
For those who might be wondering, the photos #1,2 and 5 are burdock. Photos #3 and 4 are rhubarb. Kind of tricky, huh?