In the Rhubarb

By Jack Elliott

So you are now sick of pumpkin (squash) pie. How about a rhubarb one? You forgot to freeze any last spring? No need to wait until May, force some this winter.

Rhubarb of which there are many varieties likely originated in China and arrived in Europe in the Middle Ages travelling along the Silk Road with explorers like Marco Polo. Aside from its various uses it was not until the 1700s it seems to have become a popular vegetable used as a fruit to make stews, jams, pies, compotes, etc. There are large areas in Britain that produced huge quantities of fresh rhubarb by forcing it outdoors during their temperate winters, In Canada the Hudson’s Bay Posts seemed to be a major route for the spread of rhubarb across the continent.

Good stuff and good for you except parts of the plant are poisonous containing oxalic acid (used for controlling parasites in honeybees) and other nasty compounds. However the stems make simply great pies. It is the ultimate spring tonic. Not being spring you can cheat.

If you dig up some roots- nice plump ones – from that garden patch trying to keep the root ball as intact as possible, pot them in a big bucket, and leave them on the deck or in the garden to get a good dose of cold weather. They need frost to break dormancy. In our area by early December they should be ready to bring indoors. Place them in a completely dark warm basement, water them as needed and voila in a few weeks you will have fresh rhubarb. Keeping them in the dark will keep the leaves from growing, making the stems longer and higher in sugar.

Two containers of rhubarb getting their frost treatments on my deck before being brought in in early December for forcing.

When you are sick of picking more rhubarb simply stop watering them and in the spring replant the roots outdoors to let them build up their reserves for another season or compost them if you don’t need them.

So pitter, patter! Get at ‘er! The ground should still be unfrozen enough to dig some roots and you can enjoy a fresh rhubarb pie without complaining about the high price of imported fresh fruits and veggies.

In January, I will let you know how my first rhubarb/sour cream pie turns out.