When talking to people about rhubarb, I have found that it is generally a polarizing topic. It seems that either you love it or you hate it, and not many people stand in between. By far, my favourite reaction to the brightly coloured stalks comes from long time gardeners who roll their eyes at the perennial that always takes over a corner of the garden. I never truly appreciated just how much of an overachieving plant rhubarb is until I grew it in my own plot this past summer!
Our good neighbour, Louise, kindly offered her plant to me last year. Up until that point, I had never really given it much thought. Rhubarb was not a common food in our home while I was growing up and I actually couldn’t even really remember eating it. It seems somewhat incredulous that I could make it a full 29 years without sampling a garden treat that grows so well here in Alberta. Irregardless, I was expanding my garden into a field and faced the potential of having a lot of unused space so I figured, why not?! On a rainy and somewhat miserable day in May, my mom and I went down to the neighbour’s with our shovels and a container to bring the roots home in. We began digging, and then just kept on digging! I miscalculated truly how far down that root would go because the buds above ground were so small at that point. Through a fit of giggles from the three of us, we finally managed to get all of it and brought it home to the Fifth Gen garden. Once there, we carefully divided the stems and began planting my new row of rhubarb. I had envisioned a hedge-like row that would continue to grow year after year, and I would eventually be able to split the plants to create more. Once again, I underestimated the crimson shrub. From Lousie’s single plant, I was able to grow TWENTY-FOUR bunches! My one row became three in less than an hour.
At this point, I still wasn’t panicking. I had done my research and read that it can take time, years even, to establish a significant harvest. My CSA boxes would be starting in a few weeks after that, and I was just hoping that I would have enough to use some of the stalks in my first boxes. Despite the harsh growing season, the transplants flourished! Fast forward four months to September when I was scrambling to salvage what I could from the garden before the early snow began to fly. I found myself with an incredible abundance of rhubarb and thankfully, it turns out that I actually love the bold flavour. Countless hours were spent chopping in order to preserve over 40 cups of rhubarb for the winter. I used more bundles of it in my later boxes, and started to beg family and friends to take some off my hands because I couldn’t handle it anymore! At the end of the season, I even found out that Louise's plant (that I took 'ALL' of) grew back and proliferated. I'm telling you, you can't get rid of this stuff! Needless to say, I finally understand why everybody rolls an eye about planting rhubarb!
Over the summer I worked really hard to find ways to utilize the generous harvests. When the garden is in season, we eat like kings! Rhubarb crisps, cakes, and a sauce for waffles were just the beginning of it. But my personal favourite rhubarb recipe is one for bran muffins! Compared to some of the more extravagant desserts, a bran muffin must seem boring, but I consider the sweet molasses delight to be one of great comfort. During my childhood, I fondly remember so many mornings waking up to the sound of my mom mixing batter in the kitchen. To this day, if you ever come to the farm for a morning coffee, you stand a pretty good chance of being served a freshly baked muffin! In addition to that, my grandma kept a yellow Tupperware container in the top of her fridge that was never lacking a good bran. I grew up considering them a delectable snack, especially when topped by a creamy helping of butter. Perhaps now you can understand why I love the world’s most boring baking so much!
In a hope to use up the countless supply of rhubarb in my freezer, I have found that it adds a new zest to a well-loved recipe! My mom’s tried and true method uses yogurt to keep the muffins moist. I have found that a thick sauce of cooked down rhubarb seems to do the trick as well! Oftentimes I will make a double batch of muffins to use up the leftover sauce. You can cater the sweetness of it to your liking and I am not above admitting that I gleefully ate the leftovers with a spoon!
These Rhubarb Bran Muffins are the perfect way to savour a summer vegetable in the long winter months! And yes, I did say vegetable. Did you know that rhubarb is technically classified as a perennial vegetable? So by all means, when you dish up that extra helping of dessert, you can tell people that you are in fact eating your veggies!
Rhubarb Bran Muffins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup margarine
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup rhubarb sauce*
1/3 cup raisins
In a large bowl combine sugar, margarine, molasses, egg and vanilla. Stir until well blended. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine bran, flours, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to wet mixture, alternating the dry ingredients with the rhubarb sauce. Stir in raisins.
Spoon into lined muffin tins and bake at 375F for 18-20 minutes, or until tops are firm to the touch.
*To make rhubarb sauce:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp water
Over medium-high heat, combine rhubarb, water, sugar and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Stirring frequently, bring water to a boil and then lower heat to allow rhubarb to simmer. Rhubarb will eventually cook down. Mix together cornstarch and water, and add to rhubarb gradually to achieve desired thickness. Leftover sauce will keep in fridge for up to one week.