When I think spring… I think rhubarb!

By James Eddington, Eddington’s of Exeter

Really, I do!
Rhubarb is a vegetable with a unique taste that makes it a favorite in many pies and desserts. Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit, but rhubarb is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, and that makes it a member of the vegetable family.
Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fibre. Rhubarb is a perennial plant with large leaves and has long, thick and tasty stalks, and is available from early winter through early summer. Winter rhubarb is commercially produced in forcing houses in Michigan and Ontario. Rhubarb is common ingredient in any chef’s kitchen during these months.
Rhubarb leaves grow from the ground in early spring. The leaves can grow up to a foot or more in width and length and the plant may grow to a height of several feet. The green leaves of the plant are poisonous. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals, these crystals can cause swelling of throat and tongue and can restrict breathing.
The edible stalks are up to 18 inches long, 1 to 2 inches in diameter just like celery. These stalks are cut and used in pies, jams, chutney, jellies, sauces and juice.
Ontario’s West Coast rhubarb is always ready for picking just as soon as the strawberries are ready for harvest. It freezes well, as do the berries, so you can enjoy these spring delicacies all year round.

Rhubarb & Strawberry Lemonade
Makes about six servings
3-1/4 cups water
3/4 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
Two 3-inch strips of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler, plus additional for garnish
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Splash of vodka: optional
Sprig of mint: garnish

In a saucepan stir together the water, the rhubarb, the sugar, 2 strips of the zest and the vanilla, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and simmer it, covered, for 8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the strawberries and boil the mixture, covered, for 2 minutes.
Let the mixture cool and strain it through a coarse sieve set or china cap over a pitcher, pressing hard on the solids. Stir in the remaining cup of strawberries , vodka (optional) and the lemon juice, divide the lemonade among glasses filled with ice cubes and garnish each glass with some of the additional zest and fresh mint.