My earliest memories of rhubarb consist of walking along the patch in our garden as my mom harvested what seemed like bushels. She would cut the stalks close to the earth, trimming the large leaves off immediately, leaving them lie in the hot June sun to whither and wilt in the garden. My mom would warn me, "the leaves are poisonous, do not eat that part". She reminded me of this everytime she cut rhubarb, so naturally I was deathly afraid of rhubarb leaves as a kid.
We'd bring the freshly harvested rhubarb up to the house to be cleaned. Often after the first harvest of the summer, my mom would give us each a bright red sampling. We'd dip the end of the tart, fibrous stalk into a dish of sugar and take a bite... and remember that we liked it better cooked. I didn't particularly like the taste of raw rhubarb, I think I just ate it because I could and as a way to celebrate- summer was finally here.
Rhubarb is a vegetable that we treat like a fruit. We bake it into pies and layer it in tortes, crisps, and crumbles. It is no wonder- the tart, pungent vegetable tastes decidedly fruit-like and like most fruits is improved by adding a little, or a lot of sugar. Ice cream doesn't hurt either.
I was at home at my mom and dad's farm in Wisconsin for the first week of June- just in time to enjoy all the fresh cut asparagus I could eat and of course, rhubarb. I hauled home as much as I could fit into my suitcase and have since made two crunches, a pie, and some jam and still have enough for one more dessert. I bought some fresh organic strawberries from Ella Bella Farm down at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market for this simple Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam.
2 pounds rhubarb, diced
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and dried
7 cups granulated sugar
The night before you make jam, place rhubarb into a large, non-reactive saucepan or small stockpot. Cover with sugar, place cover on pot, and allow to sit overnight. The next day, clean, hull, and dry the strawberries and add them to the rhubarb mixture. Heat over medium-high heat stirring often until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to medium and boil until thick, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and skim off the foam with a metal spoon. Ladle into sterilized jars and seal. Yields 9 half-pint jars.