Rhubarb is tart, with a bit of sour pucker. It is often coupled with strawberries. With strawberries, “pie plant” is a vegetable that eats like a fruit. A favorite for Appalachian jams, rhubarb and strawberries are combined in pies, cobblers and crisps. Fun addition to cocktails, lemonade and muffins! Shockingly good as a meat glaze.
My Grandpa and Grandma Friend grew “pie plant” by the honey house, on the old Friends Drift Inn Farm. The thick stalks cooked down with strawberries were made into a sweet and tart compote served warm over vanilla ice cream. Joyce Pinson, Friends Drift Inn
Topics On Page
- Do You Know Rhubarb?
- What Does it Taste Like?
- Using Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
- Why is Pie Plant Not Well Known?
- Sourcing Local and Growing on the Farm
- Friends Drift Inn Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Do You Know Rhubarb?
I learn something every day. Raised in the Upper South, my assumption was all Southerners knew the tart and sour flavors of rhubarb.
I was wrong.
Not everyone grew up breaking the red, celery like stalks, from the mother plant and chawing on them delighting in “the pucker.”
To me, the plants are “Farmers’ Sweet Tarts” without all the chemicals.
Because the red stalked plant likes a bit of cool weather, folks in the Deep South may not have the ability to grow “pie plant.”
That’s a shame, because it is a perennial plant, meaning you plant it once, hold your breath, and if the stars align it will grow year after year.
What Does Rhubarb Taste Like?
In an article featuring rhubarb dessert recipes the editors at Saveur Magazine sum it up like this:
Rhubarb is an intensely tart spring vegetable that the food world cannot get enough of.
Pretty profound, huh?
All I can say is pucker up like a fish! By itself, it is tart. But when we pair rhubarb with strawberries, the combination is Zen. We are talking ying and yang.
Cooking Light tackles a variety of “pie plant” recipes in their magazine. They note:
Tart to the taste and most commonly used in pies and other desserts, rhubarb can also be used as the base for an elegant sauce over meat dishes. It’s a sturdy stalk, so it holds well in long bakes or braises, but it’s naturally versatile in flavor, which allows it to easily transition from a pie to a pizza.
How Do I Use Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam?
When it comes to seasonal foods, the editors at Southern Living are experts. In an article entitled “What You Need to Know About Rhubarb”they opine the plant is good in salads. We so agree!
Use Friends Drift Inn Strawberry Rhubarb Jam as:
- Basis for a sweet and tart salad dressing. Throw in fresh strawberries too!
- Use as a pork or chicken glaze – the flavors make the whole dish pop!
Instead of sugar, use jam as a sweetener in summer cocktails!
- Stirred into lemonade is a sweet acid trip you will find addicting and refreshing!
- Creamy overnight oatmeal or heated oatmeal in a bowl is a playful breakfast pairing with our jam. It’s a brain boggle!
- Warm strawberry and rhubarb jam over custards and ice cream is a spring tradition here in Appalachia.
- Use as a glaze on baked grapefruits – tart, sweet and amazing!
- Jam is awesome in jam-filled muffins and is a favorite filling for hand-pies, crisps, and cobblers.
The Upper South and North’s Take
I identify as a Southerner. But I grew up in Kentucky, a gateway to the South or the North, depending on your point of view.
We like the best from all over the country and the planet. I am not ashamed to admit I read Yankee Magazine from time to time.
Jane Walsh at Yankee Magazine wrote a slew of rhubarb recipes. Here’s what she says about “pie plant:”
The earliest culinary use of rhubarb was primarily as a filling for tarts and pies—in 19th-century America, it was called “pie plant”—and this is still true today. But there’s so much more you can do with rhubarb: purée it for sweet and savory sauces, bake it in an upside-down cake, toss it in a salad.
You need more “pie plant” in your life!
Why Doesn’t Everyone Know The Pie Plant?
Rhubarb pie plant has a cult following.
When I was growing up, pie plant was grown by most rural folks. Three or four or the perennial plants were all you needed for making strawberry rhubarb crisp and jam.
A little goes a long way.
Here in Appalachia, most rural families grow rhubarb “pie plant” along house foundations. The leaves are big and showy like a tropical plant. However, the leaves are not edible – just the stalks.
Grandma could always grow rhubarb; her “strawberry pie plant.” Momma did, but sometimes we just needed more. Daddy loved rhubarb!
Back when I was about six, I remember momma fussing at the local greengrocer. He insisted on charging for by the pound and bundled the red celery-like stalks with the leaves on.
Remember, the leaves have an acid that is not good for you unless you like running a lot. Giggles
Momma, being ever resourceful, refused to buy the pie plant stalks believing she was being taken advantage of.
When we got home, she drug out copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica and old Organic Gardening books, picked up the phone and took the grocer “to school.”
She was kind but firm.
Next week, we had red stalks awaiting nicely trimmed! That is the way momma rolls!
Sourcing Local – A Friends Drift Inn Challenge
When we tried to locate large quantities of local pie plant (large being 40-50 lbs.) a batch, let me tell you it was not an easy search!
Nobody around here grows rhubarb on that scale. We need much more than “what is normal” to keep up with demand.
Strawberries we can find. Rhubarb is the tough one!
The tart pie plant likes cool spells, and in fact matures early in the spring. It grows best in the Upper South and Northern regions. Few commercial growers are near us.
Growing Rhubarb at Friends Drift Inn Farm
Charlie and I have planted rhubarb trials for several years. Apparently, I am no good at channeling Grandma’s expertise!
We planted roots that looked like “teenage” squids. They were healthy and robust. We used lots of compost, as pie plant is a heavy feeder.
The trouble is rhubarb does not like wet feet. We have been flooded a couple of years. The trial plants did not survive. So, it is back to the farm plan to see if we can overcome this challenge.
We source rhubarb the best we can; seeking out producers who farm sustainably.
We depend on the United States Department of Agriculture for farming resources. According to the USDA grades and standards for produce:
Rhubarb belongs to the buckwheat family. The rhubarb plant is an herbaceous perennial. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, however, in use it is considered a fruit.
Fresh rhubarb is available throughout the year with the heaviest supplies marketed January through August. Most of the nation’s supplies originate in Washington, Michigan and California.
Growing local – we are working on it!
As a farmer, I read a lot about plant culture. Charlie and I both enjoy the backstory of plants; where they come from, who they are related to and how different food cultures prepare plants for eating.
Mother Earth News is one of our favorite resources. Sara Pacher at Mother Earth News writes about organic gardening and rhubarb:
Curiously, despite its being delicious, low in calories and fat, and a good source of vitamin A, potassium and some vitamin C, rhubarb was slow to reach the dinner table. The type known as Rheum officinale has been cultivated in China and Tibet for medicinal purposes for nearly 3,000 years, but Rheum rhaponticum, the parent plant of most of the rhubarb we eat today, is thought to have originated in the Volga River region of Siberia, and wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 17th century.
Pretty cool stuff! “Pie Plant” from Siberia. Who knew?
To Make A Long-Stalked Story Short
Don’t be afraid to try “new” things. Strawberry and rhubarb is a classic flavor combination beloved by folks in the Upper South and even a few “Up North.”
The contrast of sweet and tart has stood the test of time. It is historic. It is contemporary. Rhubarb with strawberries is the best of both.