If you grow rhubarb, this is a familiar, exciting sight this time of year.
Last year, I put in a few new rhubarb plants. They were rather inexpensive and I thought I could fill in ye olde rhubarb patch a bit. Then, this happened.
The variety I bought is an old-fashioned rhubarb variety known for bolting. I would not have bought it if I had realized this at the time, but it was an impulse buy. Bolting occurs when the plant sends up a flower stalk in an attempt to produce seed. Bolting reduces the amount of energy the plant has to put into leaf growth. We eat the delicious leaf stalks of rhubarb, so bolting reduces the harvest and is an undesirable trait. More modern rhubarb varieties have had the tendency to bolt bred out of them. I am reminded of modern commercial turkeys who can’t reproduce without human intervention, but I want more delicious rhubarb so I prefer the modern varieties too.
The flower is a little alarming and it looks something like pink cauliflower. The gardener can simply chop off the flower stalk, and the rhubarb should return its attention to growing leaves. It would be preferable to chop it off before it gets this big, but we were busy.
Now that the flowers are gone, hopefully our new rhubarb plants will go back to making pie fillings. I’m not sure if I’m willing to tolerate this behavior, or if I should dig them up and plant a different variety.
Finally, my wife scored me some rhubarb at the farmer’s market. One week she took this lovely picture and didn’t bring any home. Then she was given specific instructions to PLEASE BRING ME SOME RHUBARB. Somehow I just love the stuff even though I’m fairly certain the only way I’ve ever eaten it is strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Anyway, week after week since they’ve been sold out of rhubarb. That ain’t right. And this week she told quite a dramatic tale of asking one farmer who was sold out, who yelled down to the next farmer to see if they had any left, who yelled down to the next farmer who was also sold out, until finally she got her hands on our precious rhubarb. And she got to tell the guy, “I’ll take everything you’ve got,” and once again they were sold out. This is the stuff seasonal eating is all about.
Clearly this week’s three local ingredients had something specific in mind. In addition to rhubarb, we have:
English lavender grown right nearby in Rochester. Apparently this is a good choice for culinary uses as it is lower in camphor oil and therefore less bitter.
And we get Pixie Honey made right here in Olympia at the co-op, but Jess picked up their Fireweed honey at the market and got to chat them up a little. Apparently they have about a hundred hives at different farms around town! Wow.
Now for the cooking. Nobody ever said our local meal couldn’t be dessert.
For dessert tonight, I had something other than strawberry-rhubarb pie. I had this:
Rhubarb Lavender Crumble, recipe from the kitchn.
I’d like to introduce you to our new friend, Crimson. This is allegedly the best red-stalked variety of rhubarb to grow in the Pacific Northwest. I cannot independently verify this claim. Some people say it’s the only rhubarb cultivar of consequence in the PNW.
Rhubarb is a weird thing to grow. It’s a perennial, so if you don’t kill it, you should have it forever. It can get rowdy and take over, so you should contain it. It demands thinning and rejuvenation every 4 or 5 years. The leaves are poisonous and the roots are poisonous, like all rhubarb I know of, due to high concentrations of oxalic acid. Don’t ask me how we humans figured out the stems were good if the leaves and roots have corrosive acid in them. It is safe to compost, however, since you don’t eat your compost. If you do eat compost, please stop. Of course, you have to eat something like 5k of leaves, or cook them with soda water, to make them really toxic to a human, but let’s leave that to the professionals. With all that said, my darling precious wife loves strawberry rhubarb pie, so I’m planting rhubarb (and strawberries, of course, but that’s another issue entirely).
I had the good fortune to find some root chunks at my favorite local organic nursery, Black Lake Organic. I checked with Krista to make sure she still liked rhubarb, and then tossed a few chunks into my cardboard box (the gardener’s answer to the shopping cart). Now we just have to, uh, plant them, I think.
Side note: “root chunks?” The Rhubarb Propagation Committee needs to get together and develop a more attractive name for this. Chunks? No one wants to grow chunks. Public Image make-over, stat.