There is a sweet, tart spot in my heart for rhubarb. Maybe it comes from being a kid in Upstate New York, where rhubarb season is so ardently anticipated, where the unequivocal answer to the question of favorite type of pie for any grown man (my fiancé, dad, and future father-in-law included) is strawberry rhubarb. Maybe it’s the myth of the famous family rhubarb plant that somehow thrived in a garage for months after being forgotten during a move, which was ceremoniously replanted and still to this day produces annual rhubarb stalks as the weather warms to summer temperatures. There is just something about rhubarb.
Rhubarb season is fleeting. Rhubarb saturates the market for just a few weeks each year and then is gone, a blink-and-you-miss-it chance to indulge in the tangy, sweet, unique flavor combinations that it yields. With rhubarb season right around the corner, Boulderites will have the chance to partake in just these types of indulgences, as our local farms, restaurants, and food and beverage companies are embracing the enigma that is rhubarb.
Rhubarb itself has historically been a bit of a contradiction. Often cited as a harbinger for spring and summer, rhubarb is technically a vegetable but is considered to be a fruit by legal standards. With stalks resembling those of celery and poisonous leaves (only the stalks of the plant are edible!) rhubarb can vary in color from red and pink to green. Most commonly thought of as filling for pies, rhubarb is actually extremely versatile and pairs well with a variety of foods, from strawberries to some lighter proteins. From pies to chutneys to compote to teas and more, rhubarb is abundant as the weather begins to warm.
According to Farmer Girl’s Tim Payne, rhubarb is typically a May and early June plant here in Colorado. A big fan of rhubarb himself, Payne will be featuring a variety of rhubarb-inspired dishes at Farmer Girl on their spring and summer menus. Payne will be pairing strawberry and rhubarb for a dessert crisp while also creating a rhubarb simple syrup to be used behind the Farmer Girl bar in various seasonal beverages, such as house-made sodas. Rhubarb will also make an appearance on the Farmer Girl seasonal cheese plate and charcuterie plate in the form of chutneys and preserves, and Payne notes that rhubarb pairs particularly well with meats such as pork and duck.
Boulder’s The Ghost BBQ & Spirits will likewise be utilizing rhubarb to temper Boulder’s sweet tooth on their upcoming seasonal menu. The restaurant is currently developing a strawberry rhubarb custard which will be featured on their summer dessert menu.
For the rhubarb traditionalists, Susan’s Bakery in Boulder likewise offers a seasonal strawberry rhubarb pie while supplies last.
Rhubarb’s tart and tangy sweetness shouldn’t just be relegated to food and dessert dishes, and many national liquor companies have jumped on the rhubarb wagon. At Liquor Mart here in Boulder, you can find Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters. Both Liquor Mart and Hazel’s Beverage World likewise carry RHUBARB Tea, an 80 proof spirit creation chalk full of organic produce and rhubarb from Art in the Age, a Philadelphia-based company.
For the adventurous Boulderite looking for a culinary challenge, there are also plenty of recipes and opportunities to cook with rhubarb yourself at home. Be cautious, as rhubarb plant leaves are poisonous (once again, only the stalks are edible!). Both the Boulder County Farmers’ Market and the Longmont Farmers’ Market feature fresh rhubarb from various local farms around this time of year, and I would highly recommend scooping up what rhubarb you can, freezing any extra for use throughout the year.
Local food blog Boulder Locavore features a variety of rhubarb-inspired recipes ripe for experimentation, from Rhubarb Crunch to the Rhubarb Pie Cocktail to Brined Boneless Pork Loin Roast with Rhubarb-Cherry Port Sauce to the Rhubarb Grunt and more. Savory Spice Shop, another Colorado-based company, likewise boasts a Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pie with Citrus Crust recipe. If all of this doesn’t make you crave the sweet flavor of summer that rhubarb yields, I don’t know what will.
Rhubarb season will truly have come and gone before you know it, so be sure to take advantage of this delicious, delightfully unique food while it’s available!