Rushing the Rhubarb Season

The daffodils have just emerged and so have the rhubarb leaves in my back yard. Since the stalks are still too small to harvest, I cheated and bought a few from the supermarket. Then I tried to find a family recipe. Nothing! Rhubarb does grow in Virginia and West Virginia, but I suspect nobody liked its stringy sourness.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

Rhubarb, a member of the buckwheat family, actually originated in China, where it was used as a medicine. Cultivation spread into Europe, and rhubarb became all the rage in England when Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837 inspired a commemorative variety known as Victoria rhubarb. A Maine gardener imported rhubarb to the U.S. sometime around 1800 and introduced it to growers in Massachusetts, according to The Rhubarb Compendium, an on-line resource for all things rhubarb. Maybe that explains why rhubarb pie often heralds spring in New England and why rhubarb is often called the “pie plant.”

Since making pie seemed like too much work this week, I adapted a sauce from a pamphlet from Indiana titled Old Fashioned Bread Puddings by adding orange juice and fresh ginger to a basic recipe. The sauce would certainly go well with bread pudding, ice cream, or even plain yogurt. I simply ate it plain as an astringent chaser to all my carbs!

Rhubarb 1Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

3 1/2 cups 1/4 inch-slices of rhubarb stalks
1/4 cup orange juice
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3/4 cup sugar (more to taste – I like my sauce fairly tart)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

  1. Place the rhubarb, orange juice and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  2. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is tender.
  3. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
  4. Let cool before serving. It will thicken as it cools.
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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