Rhubarb has been growing in gardens around the world for a long, long time. A plant that is easily divided and shared with friends and neighbors, rhubarb traveled West with the pioneers and was a traditional part of nearly every farm garden in the northern half of the country. Even today, old abandoned farmsteads can still be identified by the lushly-growing descendants of their original rhubarb patches.
If you live in the right part of the country, growing rhubarb is not that difficult. It does have a few requirements, however.
Rhubarb grows best in climates where the ground freezes in winter. In order to produce a crop of new, edible stems, rhubarb plants require an extended period of temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Although rhubarb can be successfully grown as far south as Zone 7, it’s far more commonplace in gardens in the colder parts of the country.
Rhubarb plants are perenniels, yielding harvests for 5 to 8 years and even longer. Established rhubarb plants don’t transplant well, so don’t plan on moving your rhubarb once it’s in the ground. It prefers full sun, but can do well in light shade. Rhubarb likes lots of room to spread and grow. Plants will sprawl out to 4 feet wide and can grow quite tall.
To harvest rhubarb, cut the longer stalks and carefully pull or cut them away from the base of the plant. Cut away and discard both the leave and the base of the stem. The leaves and roots contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and should NEVER be eaten. You’ll be left with a crisp, firm stem, perfect for transforming into whatever you desire.
No green thumb or no space to garden? Don’t worry. Rhubarb is plentifully available during its lengthy spring & summer growing season. Check your local grocery store, farmer’s market or order online from Earthy Delights.
Cooking with rhubarb
Fresh rhubarb has a powerfully sour tang that is usually countered with lots of sugar. Our sauce, really more of a stewed rhubarb or compote, uses less sugar than usual and a generous amount of dry hard cider to tame rhubarb’s bite.
We’ve paired this zesty rhubarb sauce with a simple preparation of oven-roasted duck, but it goes wonderfully with any rich meat or fowl. Try it with roast pork or chicken, grilled sausages – even alongside the cranberry sauce with your next holiday turkey.
Roast Duck with Rhubarb-Cider Sauce
We used intensely aromatic blossoming sage, because the sage in our garden is currently flowering, but regular sage works equally well.
- 1 whole duck, about 4 lb
- 1 large onion
- 1 bunch fresh sage
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the rhubarb sauce:
- 1 lb rhubarb, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
- 16 oz hard cider
- 2/3 cup cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Prepare the duck by removing giblets, reserving them for other uses. Pat the duck dry with paper towels and leave uncovered on a plate in the fridge to air dry.
Stir together all the ingredients for the rhubarb sauce in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to very low and let simmer uncovered for 45 – 50 minutes or until the liquid has almost completely disappeared and the rhubarb is covered with a thick, syrupy glaze. Stir the sauce as little as possible to preserve the texture of the rhubarb. Remove it from the heat and set aside until needed.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Using a fork or thin bladed knife, prick the skin of the duck all over. Season the ducks generously with salt and pepper, both inside and out – and don’t skimp on the salt. Slice the onion into quarters and place inside the duck, along with the sage.
Place the duck, breast side up, on a roasting rack set in a large roasting pan. Slide the pan onto the center rack of the preheated oven. Roast the duck for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
After the first 45 minutes, carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven, and using tongs or heavy spoons, turn the duck with the back up. Return to the oven to finish cooking.
When the duck is done, remove it to a large platter and allow it to rest for 15 – 20 minutes. Cut into serving pieces and serve with the rhubarb sauce.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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