Of the Earth: Celebrating rhubarb with some fun facts

  • Rhubarb was celebrated on Saturday with Hawley Rhubarb Day, which included a rhubarb matinee hosted by Recorder columnist Tinky Weisblat. Courtesy photo/Wikimedia Commons


For the Recorder
Published: 5/29/2018 6:05:06 PM

In my house, we were instructed not to talk about our food, and no one did — except when we were told things like, “Shut up and eat your rhubarb.” Rhubarb is a “spring tonic,” we were told, and should be appreciated fully and bitterly, preferably without sugar. I always assumed that it was spelled “Ruebarb,” and that it represented another harsh New England for-your-own-good prescription, as in “You will rue the day you didn’t eat this ruebarb as you were told to.” I was wrong.

Now, thankfully, we can talk about our food. Lots. We can write about it. We even have special events to celebrate food and food writing, such as last Saturday’s Hawley Rhubarb Day, and Rhubarb Matinee presented by our own Diva of Deliciousness Tinky Weisblat, with horticultural input from garden columnist Pat Leuchtman.

This is all entirely fitting, as it comes in conjunction with the release of Weisblat’s marvelous new book “Love, Laughter and Rhubarb.”

First, a few fun facts about the plant itself, some of which come from Weisblat, and some from rhubarb sources that I never had occasion to consult until now:

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial vegetable, not a fruit, although it often winds up in pies and stews with strawberries and other fruit.

Rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten.

Rhubarb first made an appearance in the chronicle of human gastronomy about 3,000 years ago in China and the near east, along (apparently) with everything else we eat. It showed up belatedly in colonial America about 1730.

Rhubarb root produces a rich brown dye similar to walnut husks and is used in northern regions where walnut trees do not survive.

The term “rhubarb” is a combination of the ancient Greek rha and barbarum; rha refers both to the plant and to the River Volga; it is also a term for a bench-clearing brawl in baseball.

Rhubarb contains molecules that can carry an electrical charge.

Rhubarb actually is good for you, and has long been considered an effective laxative.

All that aside, Weisblat’s new book has something rhubarb for every occasion. Personally, I can’t wait to try the swordfish steak with rhubarb salsa, which we present with her kind permission:


2 cups finely chopped rhubarb

½ inch ginger root

3 to 4 T sweet onion

1 clove garlic

1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 handful cilantro

Juice of 1 lemon or lime

2 tsp. honey

Salt to taste (about 1 tsp.)

4 swordfish steaks, about 1 inch thick

Mayonnaise as needed (up to ½ cup)

Pepper, lemon juice to taste

Place rhubarb and ginger in a nonreactive saucepan and pour boiling water over both. Return water to boil and remove from heat.

Drain rhubarb and ginger, and pour cold water over them to stop cooking. Drain again.

In bowl, combine rhubarb and ginger with garlic, peppers, onion and cilantro.

In small bowl, combine juice and honey, stir in salt and add to rhubarb mixture.

Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Heat grill. Coat swordfish steak with mayonnaise on both sides, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Cook on grill until fish loses its translucency but is still moist, about 10 minutes, turning once.

Serve fish with mounds of salsa.

Makes four servings.

The Cutting Board

Oh, those pesky prepositions: On May 16, we wrote about the Wendell residents and the “campaign to sequester many thousands of acres of trees for commercial harvesting.” That should have been “FROM commercial harvesting” ... a whole different, and opposite, meaning. And Lisa Hoag is more accurately described not as a local organizer, but as a member of the Wendell Historical Commission. And finally, a “Cultural Resource Emergency Concern” letter sent to state officials was not signed by four native tribes, but was intended to support their interests.

Where credit is due: Way back on Feb. 28, we gracelessly neglected to mention the role of the Franklin Community Coop in hosting the Cabin Fever Seed Swap. They did, indeed, totally host it.

HIP check again: We learned this week that the Healthy Incentives Program is back, at least through July 1. About $2.15 million in new funding from the General Court comes just in time for the beginning of the farmers market season. Still under consideration is $6.2 million to keep HIP shaking though the next fiscal year beginning July 1 — “so that low-income families can continue to have access to fresh, healthy, local foods, and so that farms can remain sustainable,” according to the Mass. Food System Collaborative.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at: wesleyblixt@me.com.

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