2017-06-01 / From The Garden

It's Strawberry and Rhubarb Season

By Cynthia Gibson


Rhubarb is used mainly in desserts but sometimes in savory food as well. Only the stems are used in cooking. The leaves are toxic. Rhubarb is used mainly in desserts but sometimes in savory food as well. Only the stems are used in cooking. The leaves are toxic. There is no better combination of fruit and vegetable flavors in late spring or early summer than freshly picked strawberries and rhubarb. It is an age-old favorite and a popular filling for pies. The early strawberries and the rhubarb are slowly starting to turn red. From May to July you can pick strawberries and find fresh rhubarb in the supermarkets and farmers markets, unless you grow your own.

Strawberries, the wonderful heart-shaped early summer fruit everyone loves, are sweet, making them a great foil for the tangy and sour rhubarb. Regardless of any recipe, if rhubarb is in it you will be adding sugar.

Strawberries and rhubarb are both easy to grow, and sprout like weeds on Aquidneck Island. We just happen to have the perfect climate and growing conditions for both of these perennial plants. Rhubarb, by the way, has been known to last for years. For example, my plant is 15 years old. All of these plants love and crave full sun. Sun will make your strawberries bright red and sweet.

Rhubarb must be grown in ground, as it becomes a very large plant and will grow to three feet in diameter.

Due to our wild rabbit population, glorious birds and other wildlife, strawberries that are grown in beds in the ground are short-lived. The deer love the leaves, and the rabbits and birds will eat every berry. Growing strawberries in grow boxes or gutters is the way to go. Growing in strawberry pots is limiting, as they only have eight to 10 holes or less in which to place one strawberry plant. You might be able to grow enough strawberries for one pie only. And once you have grown and made your first strawberry rhubarb pie, you will be hooked!

To make a strawberry rhubarb pie is quite simple. Actually, once you make the filling you can keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or freeze it for up to three months. It is great without the pie crust middleman, and pouring it over vanilla ice cream is divine!

More On Rhubarb

The Victorians are responsible for the rhubarb craze in the United States that started during the time of the coronation of Queen Victoria of England. One of the surprises arising from the pageantry was a new variety of rhubarb that was named “Victoria” in her honor. The rhubarb wave of popularity crossed the pond and made it to our shores in the late 1800s. It is an exceedingly sour, stringy stalk with poisonous leaves that no ordinary person would ever think of cooking. Well, the Victorians were huge experimenters. I hate to think of those who cooked the leaves instead of the stalks! Though sweetened in recipes for pies, cakes, trifles and fools, it is indeed a vegetable.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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