Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

Over the years, many Island homes, particularly those in the country (including mine) have had (and many still do) a rhubarb patch. The tiny shoots of the perennial rhubarb plants poking through the earth are always considered a harbinger of Spring and a welcome one at that. After many long Winter months in Northeastern Canada, it’s always good to see this sign of life in the corner of the garden. In fact, some local groups on PEI host fund-raising “Rhubarb Socials” each June at which they serve desserts made with rhubarb so it appears the lowly rhubarb has gained some social status!

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

A number of years ago, I suggested planting a rhubarb crown (rhizomes) in the corner of our cottage garden. The idea was not met with grand enthusiasm but, nonetheless, I went to the garden center and landed home with two rhubarb crowns which did get planted (I knew they would once they were onsite!). Well, now that rhubarb is just the greatest thing ever planted! It grew alright – in fact, we now have more of a rhubarb “bush” than a patch! Some stalks are about 18” tall. Local supermarkets are currently selling rhubarb for $3.99/lb (Cdn $). In fact, I saw some at a local farm stand last Saturday where they were selling for $4.95 and they were not overly fresh either. Sometimes, we take for granted the value of what we have in our backyard gardens. In fact, in Spring 2011, I planted two rhubarb crowns in the backyard of my suburban home. I’m pleased to say they are doing very well – long, strong stalks (ribs) with huge triangular-shaped leaves. I can’t remove any stalks from these plants this year but, next year, I can harvest one-third of the produce and, the following year, as much as is available since the rhubarb will be well established by then.

In PEI, we harvest rhubarb from early-mid May until mid-June. Harvest when stalks are long and still slender as thicker stalks tend to be older and, therefore, tougher and more stringy. To harvest, grasp the rhubarb stalk down close to its root base and give it a good tug to pull it out of the ground. Immediately cut off and discard the bottom whitish part of each stalk. The early Spring stalks are the most tender and yield greater juiciness.

If you are buying rhubarb at a farm market or grocery store, look for stalks that look dry, have crispness to them and are not limp, soft, wilted, or showing signs of turning brown at the ends.

Rhubarb is available in many varieties and shades of color that range from green to stalks that are red-green speckled or graduated in color from red to green, to deep crimson red. When purchasing a rhubarb crown for your garden or when buying rhubarb stalks, I recommend looking for varieties that have a deep red color. They will have the most flavour and give the richest pink color to recipes. Stalks that are primarily green are less flavourful and do not add appealing color to culinary dishes. As a rough, general guideline, 1 pound of raw rhubarb will yield approximately 4 cups chopped.

There has long been a debate over whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. It is often referred to as the “pie plant” because one of the most common and recognizable uses of it is in rhubarb pie and we tend to think of dessert pies as being made with fruit, not vegetables. Rhubarb is generally considered to be a vegetable notwithstanding that, in 1947, a New York court decided that, since it was primarily used as fruit in the US, rhubarb would be considered a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. So, while rhubarb is often treated as a fruit in many culinary dishes, botanically and by general consensus, it appears to be more accepted as a vegetable.

Regardless whether it is a fruit or a vegetable (we’ll leave that to botanists and other scientists to make the definitive call on that), it is a very versatile ingredient in many recipes. From jams, marmalades, sauces, chutneys, and drinks to pies, tortes, puddings, muffins, and ice cream, there are an endless number of recipes in which to use rhubarb. While I don’t fancy it raw, it is not uncommon to find our young glasscutter hopping off the mower to head over to our rhubarb patch to grab a rhubarb stalk to snack on! Guess he must like the sour, tart taste better than I do!

Rhubarb freezes very well and we freeze a number of bags each Spring. Chopped and frozen in recipe-specific portions and labelled accordingly, rhubarb is then available to us year-round to use in our favourite recipes.

From a nutritional standpoint, rhubarb is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and dietary fibre. Because rhubarb largely consists of water (one source claims it is 95% water), it has no cholesterol, fat, or sodium. However, because rhubarb is so tart, it needs sweetening so, adding other ingredients such as sugar, or combining it with fruits such as strawberries, apples, etc., will obviously alter the cholesterol, fat, and/or sodium content of the dish you make using rhubarb.

I have a multitude of favourite rhubarb recipes but one of my all-time favourites is this Rhubarb Marmalade (recipe follows). Combined with three citrus fruits, it has a tart, fresh taste and, best of all, it is the first of my jamming and preserving processes of the season. I use this rich-colored and flavourful marmalade on toast, biscuits, scones, and I particularly like a dollop of it on a warm cream custard.

Time to bring out the jam pots and bottles and capture some of this Springtime goodness before the rhubarb gets too old and tough to use. If you do try this recipe, please be sure to leave me a comment about your impressions of it.

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

8 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
4¼ cups sugar
1 large orange (or 1½ small oranges)
½ pink grapefruit
½ small lemon

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Peel orange. Chop the pulp and place in bowl. Scrape the pith from the orange peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 grapefruit or use a grapefruit knife to section the grapefruit pulp. Add pulp to the orange. Scrape the pith from the grapefruit peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 lemon. Chop the pulp and add to orange and grapefruit pulp. Scrap the pitch from the lemon peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

In a large pot, place the rhubarb and sugar. Add the citrus pulp and peel. Stir over medium heat.

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

Place two small saucers in the freezer to chill. You will use these to test the marmalade to see if it gels.

Cook the fruit mixture, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1/2 hour. Test by placing a small amount of the marmalade on a chilled saucer. Gently shake the saucer back and forth to see if the marmalade has thickened and gels. If it does, it is done; if not, continuing cooking and testing at 5-minute intervals until mixture gels.

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Sterilize the jars either by using the sanitizer setting on the dishwasher or by placing the jars in boiling hot water.

Fill sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4″ head room at jar top. Place lids and rims on jars.

Yield:  Apx. 5½ – 6 cups

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Savour the Flavour at PEI’s Food and Wine Show

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For the past four years, the PEI Restaurant Association has presented a Springtime event that brings together the best chefs from the Island’s finest restaurants and pairs them with producers and distributors of fine wines, beers, and spirits to bring Islanders the ultimate gourmet tasting experience.

Chefs at Savour Food & Wine Show

On Thursday, May 24, 2012, I attended the 4th Annual “Savour Food & Wine” Show held at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. To be frank, this was the first time I had attended and I was not sure what to expect.  I was quite impressed with the calibre of the show.  This was a high-end smorgasbord event that definitely had a party atmosphere!  In the words of exhibitor Julie Shore of Prince Edward Distillery who has participated as an exhibitor in the Show for four years, this event could very aptly be described as “a big cocktail party – and the host hired the best caterers!” 

Lot 30's Creativity
Samples at Savour Food & Wine SHow

The show is an occasion for local restaurants, wineries, distilleries, and other beverage producers across the Island to promote their products directly to foodies, restaurant patrons, and beverage enthusiasts.  Carl Nicholson, President of the PEI Restaurant Association, says the Show “is also an opportunity to showcase what members of the Association do with Island products.  Members want to promote the fact that they support local [producers] and feel the quality of Island products is superior”.  Guests attending the event get to meet and chat directly, one-on-one, with the chefs and beverage vendors, something they would not otherwise get to do in a typical restaurant setting.  Shore says “It is a great opportunity for us to enjoy all the wonderful feedback.  We love seeing people’s reaction to our spirits!  They enjoy the delicious cocktails and we enjoy the reactions!” 

 

 

Prince Edward Distillery

The show also provides the occasion to introduce new products on the market and offers guests an opportunity to sample products that they may not have had before, or even knew were produced on PEI, like Wild Blueberry & Tart Cherry Juice or Wild Blueberry & Rhubarb Juice produced by PEI Juice Works Ltd. of Alberton, PEI.    Says first-time exhibitor, Ryan Bradley, VP of Sales and Marketing for PEI Juice Works, “We were asked to participate at the PEI Flavours booth this year to help showcase unique new Island products.  This show allows us to provide samples to people with a keen interest in quality foods. It also allows us to interact one-on-one with people and get valuable feedback. Because we are so new, any activity that helps us create more awareness [in our products] is very important.” 

Beverages

 

 

 

 

 

Upon presentation of their $75.00 ticket at the door, each of the 500 guests is handed a wine glass and a program and show floor plan.  From there, guests follow the tantalizing scent of food and tour through the 45 booths each preparing their product for tasting.  Each food booth has a supply of small plates and guests are welcome to taste samples of whatever each booth is offering.  Their wine glasses get filled with their favourite libation which can be found at the many beverage booths that serve anything from local and imported wines and beers to locally distilled gin or blueberry juices.

All within the span of two hours and under one roof, visitors to the show have the opportunity to experience foods and beverages they might not otherwise try or even have access to, be educated on food and beverage products available locally, or simply enjoy the abundance and array of foods and beverages available at the show.  The event offers not only treats for the tummy but also for the eyes too as chefs outdo themselves with the creativity and presentation of food as well as their tastefully decorated booth displays.

Wine Offerings

This Island has long been associated with good food and talented chefs.  Complimenting that repertoire, PEI is now gaining a solid reputation for award-winning locally produced wines and spirits.  Both the Island and the exhibitors (all members of the PEI Restaurant Association) pulled out all the stops for this year’s Savour Food & Wine show.  It was a fine gala event that signaled the kick-off to summer dining when, as Islanders, we eagerly await our favourite seasonal restaurants to open their doors to patrons.  If what I saw at the Show was any indicator, visitors and Islanders alike are in for a real treat when dining around PEI this summer.  As Carl Nicholson says, “we tend to go to restaurants we know.  The Show allows guests to try samples from different restaurants which hopefully will encourage them to then go and try out the restaurants for a meal.”  I have already started my Summer 2012 list of restaurants to try – some, of course, are old favourites but some are new based on what I saw and sampled at the Savour Food & Wine Show.  Could be a hard summer on the waistline!

Tempting Desserts