Rhubarb is ready (including at Langdon Hall)

Rhubarb is ready (including at Langdon Hall)

Be on the lookout for rhubarb — this historically quite old herbaceous perennial is coming soon to farms and backyard gardens in Waterloo Region.

Rhubarb is the vegetable that parades its proud red stalks (don’t read anything Freudian into that) as a fruit. As long ago as the 18th-century, the English were using the tart stalks to make fruit pies. When commercial sugar became more abundant — and less expensive — rhubarb use boomed, especially in the post-World War One years.

Usually available later in April and May, the fresh, outdoor stuff is the best. However, “forced” Ontario rhubarb is available during the winter: producers snag some roots in the fall and force it to grow in indoor sheds. There are actually 60 or so of these producers in the province.

Bangerter checks out Langdon's rhubarb (Photo: WREats).

Bangerter checks out Langdon’s rhubarb (Photo: WREats).

The word rhubarb has linguistic roots in the Latin word referring to “barbarians.” And the fact is that eating the leaves of rhubarb can be quite nasty and could do some barbaric things to you: they contain harmful oxalic acid, which accounts for the bitterness.

Look for crisp and firm rhubarb stalks (like celery) when you buy, not flaccid, limp ones.

The current tasting menu at Langdon Hall includes a fresh chèvre course with strawberry, almond and rhubarb.

Langdon Chef Jason Bangerter says he loves the early appearance of rhubarb in the restaurant’s garden, and he tries to integrate it into both sweet and savoury dishes. He offers a gardening tip about the plant, pointing out that if you have rhubarb in your garden, take care of it and trim it regularly and you can have fresh rhubarb for a long time past just spring.

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