- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Rhubarb is the old-fashioned pie plant, a favorite perennial that crouches in many established gardens. One of the first signs of spring in many parts of the country are rhubarb’s red stalks poking up from the black garden soil, followed by bright green leaves.

Although the leaves are toxic, rhubarb stalks are a delicious foil for the sweeter fruits of early summer, especially strawberries.

Spring and early summer are the best times to lop off enough rhubarb stalks to fill several freezer bags so that you can bake pies into late fall. Horticulturists advise not cutting after July 4, since the plant needs time to rejuvenate for next spring’s emergence.

Even if you don’t have a patch of rhubarb, starting one this spring couldn’t be simpler. Ask a neighbor or buy root divisions in a local nursery. Plant them in a location where the rhubarb can grow year after year without being disturbed — separate from tilling. It takes about three years before you’ll get a good harvest, so be patient.

Rhubarb cherry chutney

4 cups chopped rhubarb

2 cups honey, or to taste

1 cup dried pitted cherries

cup molasses

2 large navel oranges, peeled, seeded and chopped

cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon ground cloves

teaspoon ground allspice

In heavy 2-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, combine rhubarb, honey, cherries, molasses, chopped orange, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Bring to boil over medium heat. Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more vinegar or honey, if desired. Cool and refrigerate overnight before serving. Makes 3 to 4 cups.

Orange rice pudding with rhubarb sauce

This pudding recipe was inspired by one I enjoyed from Gourmet magazine. It pairs beautifully with the orange-scented rhubarb sauce below.

3/4 cup white basmati rice

1 vanilla bean

4 cups skim milk

cup orange juice

cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

cup currants

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Salt

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (less than 1 envelope)

Water

Oil

Rhubarb sauce (recipe follows)

Soak rice in cold water to cover 30 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into 3-quart heavy saucepan.

Add pod, drained rice, milk, orange juice, sugar, currants, butter, nutmeg and pinch of salt. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, and cook, partially covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes or until tender and creamy. Remove from heat and discard vanilla pod.

In small bowl, dissolve gelatin in 1 tablespoon cold water; let stand 1 minute. Stir into rice mixture until gelatin is dissolved.

Lightly oil 9-inch springform pan and line with plastic wrap. Pour pudding into pan and let cool. Chill, covered, until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 1 day.

Remove sides from springform pan and invert large serving plate over pudding, then invert onto plate and remove bottom of pan and plastic wrap. Serve with warm rhubarb sauce.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

RHUBARB SAUCE:

4 cups chopped rhubarb

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

cup orange juice

In heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine rhubarb, maple syrup and orange juice.

Cover and cook slowly over medium heat until rhubarb is soft, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Taste and adjust sweetening, if needed. Makes 4 cups.

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