It’s in almost everybody’s garden, and it grows totally untended in abandoned homesteads and mine sites — It must be a North American plant, right?

Well, not so.

it was brought to North America in the late 1700s, but didn’t gain wide popularity until the mid-1900s. This red-stalked, green-leafed vegetable is rich in vitamin C, fibre, and calcium, and needs a cold season to grow well, so it’s a natural in the Canadian climate.

It is best grown from a root division of an abandoned, growing plant, or as a gift out of a friend’s garden. Plant the pieces so the buds are about one inch below the ground. Keep the area free of weeds.

The leaves are similar in appearance to some other common vegetables but rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so don’t be tempted to use them in the kitchen.

For cooking, choose the thinner stalks, which are pink or red, and where the leaves are firm and healthy looking. Rinse, pat dry, trim the ends, cut into one inch lengths, and simmer in a little water with sugar added to suit your tastebuds.

Rhubarb is acidic, so uncoated aluminum or copper pots should not be used. Stainless steel, porcelain, or well-seasoned cast-iron are good choices for cooking. Stewed rhubarb blends well with other fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, and peaches, and it can be used alone or mixed in pies, sauces, and muffins.

You can store trimmed, uncooked rhubarb for three to five days in a refridgerated Ziploc or up to a year if sealed airtight in the freezer.

There are numerous recipes to use up your rhubarb and most are quite simple to follow. Aside from simple stewed rhubarb, our household has had great success with the following muffin or loaf recipe with slight changes by the resident baker:

Yield: 18 muffins or 2 loaves

Ingredients

. 2- ½ cups (625mL) all-purpose flour

.1 tsp (5mL) baking soda

.1/2 tsp (2mL) salt

.1-1/4 cups (300mL) packed brown sugar

.1/2 cup (125mL) vegetable (we substitute same amount of apple sauce)

.1 egg

.1 cup (250mL) buttermilk (we substitute 1 tsp white vinegar in 1 cup regular milk)

.1 tsp (5mL) vanilla

.2 cups (500mL)

Topping:

.1/2 cup (125mL) packed brown sugar

.1 tbsp (15mL) melted butter

.1/2tsp (2mL) cinnamon

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In separate bowl, blend sugar with oil: whisk in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients along with rhubarb just until flour is incorporated. Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin tins, filling ¾ full, or spoon into 2 greased 8 x 4 inch (1.5L) loaf pans.

These will be eaten very quickly but in the meantime they can be frozen in containers or big Ziploc, and thawed and re-warmed as needed in the microwave.