Tuesday, June 25, 2013

wannaGROW: Rhubarb (and Honeyed Cardamom Rhubarb Compote)

Life with a monster garden means a monster amount of work. It means loads of weeding, digging, pruning, planting, composting, and so on. In the past three years, we've brought our yard from an overgrown disaster to a more intentionally overgrown disaster. hah! We've pulled out some things, figured out what needs to stay, read books, and learned from Mom. We're trying to turn our not-completely-black thumbs into green ones. It's a work in progress. But that seems to be the underlying lesson that I hear from most gardeners... you learn by doing.

So, we're doing and we're doing our best.

One thing that seems to require very little effort in our garden is this lovely little patch of rhubarb in the back corner. The first year, we didn't even know it was there. The second year, we discovered it and that was about it. This third year, we managed to get there early, weed around it (courtesy of Des's elbow grease and contributions) and found ourselves harvesting a great amount of rhubarb!

There are amazing tips on working with rhubarb on Canadian Gardening's site. What I did learn about harvesting was that you DO NOT cut the stalks to harvest them. Rather, you should grasp the stalk at the base, pull gently, and twist. Apparently this will encourage the root to continue to produce, as opposed to cutting which discourages it altogether. I think that little leafy bit (hidden by the big stalk that you just removed) is the whole reason for the harvesting technique. That little leaf will become a big rhubarb leaf and stalk soon enough!

Also, remove the flower stalks as they appear. If you leave these, the plant will put its energy into developing the flowers and become dormant for the season, as opposed to continuing to produce edible stalks for you. Oh, and a BIG no to eating the leaves. This is not the time to add variety to your garden salad. The leaves are toxic but they can be composted safely or turned into a helpful pesticide for your flowers like the one here. Just don't spray it on anything that you'll eat later. The leaves remain toxic even in this form.

I remember rhubarb in many forms when I was a kid. We grew up eating rhubarb fresh from the ground... a stalk rinsed under the garden hose with a tiny container of sugar. I remember my Dad making stewed rhubarb and eating it on anything... ice cream, toast, or just a straight bowlful of it. He loved it. Here's an idea for something slightly different for your rhubarb harvest...

4 cups of rhubarb, washed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 cup of orange juice
10 cardamom pods
4 tablespoons honey

(My rhubarb harvest... and my one hilariously lonely cherry tomato.)

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Let simmer over medium-low heat until rhubarb begins to break down and soften. This takes... maybe... twenty minutes. Really, it was very little time at all.

Spoon, like my Dad's stewed rhubarb, over ice cream... serve with crusty delicious baguette... or use it to adorn a beautiful blue cheese, like I have here with this beautiful Salt Spring Island Cheese Company's Blue Juliette, ripened goat cheese.

The cardamom is very subtle when you first eat it but, as it sits, the flavour will develop. The rhubarb still has its characteristic tartness but the honey provides just the perfect amount of sweetness.

You can also preserve this compote. While warm, ladle the compote into clean canning jars. Top with fresh lids and fasteners. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. 

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