Rhubarb buds actually begin appearing at 40 degrees, so it’s exploding into growth right now. I planted it last year and it’s taking off in the garden now. The best part is that it takes little care to grow as long as you give it plenty of room, and the stems can be harvested sometimes until mid-summer. Some rhubarbs have red stems, but the most common type has green stems. Both have the same taste. You can purchase roots at garden centers, or you can beg a division from someone who has a healthy plant. I’ve been known to haunt abandoned farms to dig divisions.
Harvest while the plants have robust stems and put the excess in the freezer. Simply chop and put in a freezer bag for use in rhubarb bread and cakes. When stems become slender, stop harvesting and wait until fall. It’s not necessary to remove flower stalks from plants.
Packed with Vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium, the stems are absolutely delicious simply stewed with a little sugar and spooned on top of oatmeal or ice cream. Just remember that the leaves are not edible and can give you a pretty good tummy ache.
Rhubarb bread is a favorite in my house, and I like to combine it with apples for an extra burst of flavor.
Rhubarb streusel bread (can be made into muffins as well)
1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar 1/2 c. vegetable oil 1 egg 1 c. buttermilk 1 t. vanilla 2 1/2 c. flour 1 t. baking soda 1 t. salt 1 ½ c. fresh or frozen sliced rhubarb or a combination of rhubarb and grated apples
Note: if rhubarb is frozen, thaw and let drain, discarding the liquid
TOPPING: ½ c. sugar ¼ t. cinnamon 1 T. cold butter
In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar and oil. Add egg, mix well. Beat in buttermilk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into brown sugar mixture just until combined. Fold in rhubarb. Pour into two greased 8 x 4 loaf pans or greased muffin tins.
For topping, combine sugar, cinnamon and butter until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Cut with serrated knife.
Nothing quite says autumn like the scent of cinnamon-laced baking apples wafting through the house on a cool afternoon. Now I love apple pie, but it is much more of a commitment to time and expertise. I can pull off an apple crisp in less than half an hour, without fear of crust failure which is one of my regular mishaps.
I tend to fall back on fruit crisps frequently since they are simple, fresh desserts that can be made with any type of fruit. All you need to do is adjust the cooking time depending on the firmness of the fruit. In a pinch, frozen fruits work just fine (this is one of my main reasons for freezing peaches in season). For the crisp, use your imagination and just about any combination of oats, flour, nuts if you like, and cinnamon. Make it stick together with juice, butter or coconut oil, your choice. I’ve recently tried using ready-made granola which makes the process even simpler and faster. And crunchier.
To make a quick crisp that serves two, simply fill a small baking dish with two to four cups of prepared fruit, sweeten if necessary, and top with a crumbly crust (below). Bake about half an hour (45 minutes for apples and pears) at 350 degrees.
Some lovely fruit combinations:
Peaches and blackberries or raspberries
Blueberries and plums
Apples and cranberries
Rhubarb and strawberries
1 c. regular oatmeal
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
¼ c. defrosted apple juice concentrate
Mix the first four ingredients; drizzle apple juice into the oatmeal mixture. Stir until the mixture forms small clumps. Spread mixture on top of the fruit and bake 30 minutes at 350.
⅓ c. chopped toasted walnuts
½ c. flour
½ c. rolled oats
½ c. brown sugar
1 T. granulated sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ c. softened butter
Mix dry ingredients well and then cut in the butter until it forms small clumps. Continue as above.
Vegetables that come back year after year? I can’t think of anything more enticing to a gardener than the reward of delicious food with little effort. As I keep trying to ease my gardening load, I’m captivated with the virtues of perennial vegetables.
I have a good start on some, but I’m going to add more this year. There’s something so appealing about not having to replant every year. I’ll never give up my annual peppers, tomatoes and green beans, but why not add some other less intense plantings?
Although some vegetables function like perennials, reseeding themselves or being first up in spring after having been planted in fall, there are a few true perennial vegetables that are delicious and exceptionally easy to grow. One of the best rewards is that these vegetables are often the earliest in the garden.
One of my favorite aromas in early spring is the combination of moist soil and a freshly pulled spring onion. Also called Egyptian onions or walking onions, they start as small bulbs that send up green scallion-like leaves in early spring, much like any other onion.
The underground bulb becomes tough and woody through the summer, but you can harvest the greens until about midsummer when they become tough. In midsummer the onions send up a flower stalk, and once the flowers bloom, they turn into small bulblets sitting at the top of the plant. If left alone, this flower stalk bends over and “plants” these bulblets.
The small bulblets then send up green scallions in late summer and into fall. They go dormant in winter and begin again the following spring. By bending over to plant the bulblets, the onions spread, thus “walking” to other parts of the garden.
If you’ve never tasted freshly ground horseradish, you are in for a palate teaser. Traditionally it is an accompaniment to robust meats, but try a dollop in a glass of tomato juice or as a side dressing for roasted vegetables.
Horseradish is a beautiful adornment for the garden, although it loves to spread and thrives on neglect. So site it carefully. If you don’t want it to spread, plant the horseradish in a large pot. It will reward you with handsome tropical foliage followed by clouds of airy white flowers. Any time you are ready for a dash of heat and pungency, pull up a crown, break off a piece of root and stick the remaining root back in the ground. You can harvest any time, but the roots do sweeten a bit in the fall after the first frost. Grate the root into vinegar and keep it in the refrigerator for many months.
Sorrel greens have the tangy flavor of lemon and can be used fresh in salads or cooked in soups. You can harvest all season although spring and fall are traditionally the best times. The tang comes from oxalic acid in leaves; and the leaves are packed with vitamin C and minerals.
Once established, the only cultural requirements are to keep it watered during drought and divide the plant every three or four years to keep its vigor. Don’t be tempted to fertilize or the leaves tend to lose their flavor.
There is nothing quite like the ephemeral delicacy on your tongue of roasted asparagus. Dress with a sorrel sauce for the epitome of a fresh spring treat. Asparagus is best planted in early spring. The old adage of planting the crowns a foot deep and then filling in soil as they grow has been replaced with some sound research showing that planting about six inches below ground is all they need. The bed needs to be prepared well by loosening the soil and adding compost since an asparagus bed will be in place for twenty to thirty years. Spread the roots on a small mound of soil and cover.
It’s a labor of love because you should not harvest for the first two years because the crowns need time to establish themselves. It’s hard, but you will be rewarded with beautiful thick spears in their third year. As they come up in that third spring, you can harvest until the new spears become smaller and smaller. Stop when they are about pencil-sized and let them go to leaf. The ferny leaves are quite attractive as a backdrop to other flowers, and they turn a brilliant yellow in fall.
It’s hard to talk about asparagus without mentioning rhubarb, the other perennial vegetable that is so prominent in early spring. Rhubarb buds actually begin appearing at 40 degrees, and the enormous leaves explode into growth at the first hint of warmth. Rhubarb also takes little care, and the stems can be harvested until mid-summer when new emerging stems become considerably smaller.
Rhubarb bread and strawberry rhubarb pie are traditional favorites, but think about stewing it in maple syrup for a topping for yogurt or ice cream. It makes a great chutney or relish, a refreshing drink or a tangy barbecue sauce.
Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes are a striking addition to the garden. They take a good-sized bed as they grow to about six feet, with golden sunflower blossoms. The chokes are underground tubers that can be harvested in fall and early winter. You’ll never get them all, and the ones that stay in the ground will sprout the following year. So you plant only one time.
Roasted sunchokes taste nutty and earthy and are a wonderful substitute for potatoes, especially for those whose diet requires fewer simple carbs.
Creamy Sorrel Sauce
(adapted from More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd)
This lovely light green sauce can be modified in a lot of interesting ways, adding herbs like basil and dill, changing the carriers from mayonnaise to all yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, etc. You will love it on salmon, vegetables, potatoes and especially on freshly roasted asparagus.
1 c. any combination of plain Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream
1 c. fresh sorrel with stems removed and leaves chopped
1 T. soy sauce or 1 t. salt (soy sauce gives it more flavor but you can pump up the flavor with herbs also)
1 clove garlic, minced
Blend (a blender works best to make a velvety sauce) and serve cold.