Rhubarb Should Be FREE


Rhubarb, of all local edibles, is a poster child for the what-should-be-done-but-isn’t. It’s a ridiculously cold-hardy, tough-as-nails, prolific producer of food that goes primarily into desserts as a ‘fruit’. We all know this. It’s a staple in older gardens, and most back alleys contain at least one derelict rhubarb. We all know this. Those who have it are willing to share, as its yields are copious – root divisions included. We all know this. Yet at the market this week, a bunch of a half dozen stalks or so was going for $2.50 and up. Clearly that’s not a lot of money. But to me that’s like somebody billing me – if only a modest sum – for breathing some air. It’s a teenie theft of independence. What I recently cooked down would have cost somebody $10-20. Orrrr free.

Rhubarb should be free. It should be inducted into the hall of fame of local foods, and shame should fall upon he who cannot figure out a source. The guy with the shopping cart collecting bottles in my back alley should really consider plundering rhubarb and selling THAT instead. HE can get hooked up. For FREE. [At $2.50 a yank, he could do pretty well, actually. In our neighborhood, he could even move on to horseradish once the rhubarb season is over]

My point here [at least I think I have one, other than the free thing..] is that a no-brainer local resource of free food, in a world that seems to be badly in need of precisely that, goes largely ignored and gets virtually zero respect. That’s shameful, no?. Our local food culture should be about exactly this kind of plant. But it is not. Hence my soap box. Hence my dozen or so rhubarbs throughout my yard. Yeah. A dozen. Rhubarb wine apparently ain’t that bad [note to aforementioned guy in back alley].

My favorite thing to do with rhubarb is dead simple. Chop it into 1/2″-3/4″ dice, cook it down with some vanilla bean, and some sugar. Until it’s kinda mushy buy still has a touch of texture. Not rocket science. But oh so tasty on its own [the norm for the first few feeds around here], with some goat cheese, on yogurt, in pie with strawberries, with dollops of cobbler atop it, with custard, scones, mixed with other fruits, whatever. Unpretentious, simple, local, healthful, FREE food.

Eat some rhubarb. But it’d better be free.

9 Responses

  1. Mel says:

    I agree completely! When I see thin little stalks of rhubarb for sale at grocery stores and farmer’s markets, I always laugh at the absurdly high prices. This stuff is practically a weed, people – if you dig up part of someone’s plant (they won’t miss it) and stick it in your backyard, it will grow. Prolifically.

    P.S. Rhubarb wine is very tasty. A local fruit winery, en Santé, makes a wonderful rhubarb wine – they have a booth at the Strathcona Farmer’s Market.

  2. Ferdzy says:

    Well, I disagree. But that’s because I’m selling my rhubarb for $2.50/lb.

    Hey, some people do live in apartments you know, with nary a rhubarb plant for kilometres.

    But yeah, if you have a garden you shouldn’t be a customer of mine.

    p.s. I have never seen it growing in a back alley. Obviously yiz guys have classier back alleys than what we do.

  3. Kevin says:

    Ferdzy – I hope it’s clear my gripe is with the purchaser, not they who sell it. Heck, I’d sell it. And I know, I know, not everyone can get it – I just wish they could!

  4. Ferdzy says:

    Oh Kevin I think you were taking me too seriously. However, you CAN take me seriously when I say cook your rhubarb with a little sherry in it. Yum.

  5. habanerogal says:

    Adding a little sherry or wine sounds good although most of the time I enjoy it with toast as a breakfast fruit puree.

  6. I appreciate writing with passion and such a strong voice. Everything you are saying, Kevin, I bow to. Especially the ending. Hilarious piece of writing and a very enjoyable read. Just this year I got a root of some of the really red tart rhubarb and now I have my own, too. In the former Yugoslavia, it is a weed, and no one there would think of eating it. When I fed copious amounts of it in a variety of forms to Vanja’s mother, she was in awe… as the people there have been through some terrible times and have learned almost every way to use everything possible to live off of the land. I was happy to teach her something!

  7. Kevin says:

    Ferdzy – never tried sherry, or any booze for that matter. Interesting concept..
    H – it does seem to shine and retain its humble roots as a purée, no?
    Valerie – that’s pretty kind praise! What a neat experience to be able to share something done here with a local ingredient there!

  8. [...] wrote an opinionated piece about rhubarb last year, including my favorite use. A bowl of stewed rhubarb now sits in my fridge awaiting [...]

  9. My parents and grandparents grew up often eating rhubarb as a sauce on potatoes (poor man’s gravy). I tried it myself, and it is pretty good.

    In spite of this, I think there is a lingering sense of rhubarb being a “poor man’s food” from the days of the 1930′s Great Depression when people became sick of eating too much of such foods (too much of a good thing…).

    I agree with you, it’s time for rhubarb to move on and be appreciated for the great food source it is!

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