It's the perfect time to go after rhubarb

Pacific Northwest rhubarb has hit the market and it's as beautiful as ever. OK, so it isn't as chic as sapote, or as artsy as an artichoke.

But before you turn on your foodsnobbish heels and flee, consider the fact that this humble stalk didn't get the nickname pie plant because it tastes good in soup. It was awarded that moniker because of its affinity for pastry, sugar and grandmas. Three things I'm far too crazy about to knock.

If those aren't reasons enough to consider taking advantage of our fabulous local supply right now, throw in ease of preparation. There's no peeling, pitting, coring or stemming involved with turning rhubarb into any number of simple, tasty desserts. If you can wield a chefs knife and boil water, then you're 10 minutes away from rhubarb pudding or rhubarb sauce. You spend more time than that picking through the basil in preparation for your special pesto concoctions.

My dad was a rhubarb fan his whole life. And he came by the passion honestly, because his mother — my Grandma Roberts — was one of the best rhubarb pie makers I knew. In fact, my first recollection of the traditional "pie plant" is centered around her kitchen. To keep from being under foot while she prepared one of those fabulous pies, I was pacified with a stalk of the mouth-puckering plant and a bowl of sugar.

As she rolled and crimped, I dipped and chewed. So it's no surprise that during Dad's life, he could whip up a pie or an ice cream sauce lickety-split. And would do so throughout rhubarb's rather lengthy season (March through summer!).

However, I realize that this particular piece of produce tends to pull people down off the fence. You either love it or you hate it. Of course, some people THINK they love it (or hate it) due to the copious amounts of sugar generally associated with its preparation. The best way to find out how you really feel is with my "dip and chew" treatment because the genuine flavor can't be masked by the thin layering of sweetness.

TO FREEZE RHUBARB: Wash firm, young, well-colored stalks. Dry each stalk well. Trim and cut into desired pieces to fit your packaging material then pack the pieces into freezer bags or cartons, leaving 1/2-inch head room to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze. When using your frozen rhubarb pieces, there's no need to thaw it before cooking.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author. Contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com.


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