#154: Rhubarb Days
Rhubarb history, making pie with Ruth Reichl, how to harvest, and rhubarb recipes for tea bread, tarts, cake, and pie.
A Little Rhubarb History
It’s not known by many, but Sumner, WA grows the majority of rhubarb for the entire United States. This little town, southeast of Seattle, is also the self-proclaimed Rhubarb Pie Capital of the World. Back in 2009 I was invited to pay a visit to a third generation rhubarb farm still run by the Leslie family.
The fields of lush green rhubarb plants on Farmer Ron Leslie’s farm go far up the hills in the distance. While we walked the fields he shared a bit of the history of the Sumner Rhubarb Growers Association and the race to harvest and pack the just picked stalks onto railroad freight cars, which were then shipped to the big east coast markets like Boston and New York well before the snow had melted from Michigan rhubarb fields.
A Pie Making Afternoon
A few months earlier, I spent an afternoon making pie with Ruth Reichl. Ruth is one heck of a fine pie maker and we had a blast sharing our tips and tricks with one another. Ruth’s pie was made with Washington rhubarb, most likely from one of the Sumner farms, and she marveled at the size and beauty of the rhubarb stalks.
The next day, with our pies safely packed in the back of the car, we set off for a day on a south Puget Sound beach where a crew was filming her. Pretty fun if I do say so myself!
Those days of traveling coast to coast and meeting up with writers and chefs were pretty rarified and I’m grateful for all the experiences, but I’m more of a home girl and am truly quite happy tending my garden and flock of fluffs, creating in the kitchen, walking, reading and writing.
Rhubarb is a very versatile ingredient that is packed with flavor. We’ll start off the rhubarb season with four recipes.
Rhubarb Tea Bread
Rhubarb Buttermilk Cake
Old Fashioned Rhubarb Pie
How to Harvest Rhubarb Stalks
To harvest rhubarb, reach way down inside the plant to the crown, grab hold of an individual stalk, and tug straight up, cleanly separating the stalk from the plant. Farmer Ron said that if you don’t pull straight up, chances are you’ll break the stalk which I had done many times before. Following his guidance, I pulled up a big red stalk completely intact. Then hold the stalk parallel to the ground, take a sharp knife and neatly trim off most all of the green leafy end, as well as the crown end that moments before had been attached to the plant.
To Peel or Not to Peel?
I don’t as the coloring and many vitamins are stored in rhubarb’s skin.