Rhubarb has always had a bit of a special place in my memories. As a kid, we had a huge garden with all of the typical garden plants: carrots, peas, beans, corn, pumpkins (growing among the corn), lettuce, beets, broccoli, and plenty other things I don’t remember. Along the outside edge of the garden was a row of assorted apple trees, and even a cherry tree (although the birds usually got more of the cherries than we did). At the other side of the garden was a raspberry patch with a mix of both red and yellow raspberries. There was a patch of mint, and strawberries. And there was a rhubarb patch.
A simple snack my mom would give us in the summer was a stalk of rhubarb and a small cup of honey. Dip the end in honey, then take a bite. Repeat…but don’t go overboard with the honey (you didn’t get any more when it was gone – but we weren’t worried about double-dipping either). If we were out playing in the garden, we’d often skip the honey and simply chop off a stalk and share it – enjoying the tart bite and celery-like crunch. We’d take the giant leaves from the ends of the biggest stalks (don’t eat them – they’re poisonous!) and wear them upside down on our heads – pretending we were visitors from far-off Asian lands (quite a stretch of imagination for two blue-eyed toe-heads from North Idaho). Then there was strawberry-rhubarb pies and jam, and often a large yellow GOTT-style cooler filled with a chopped rhubarb must and cheesecloth over the top. In fact, years later, it would be the finished product of that same fermenting rhubarb that would provide me with my first bona fide hangover…though I won’t divulge here the specifics of that encounter.
As the years have passed, however, I haven’t run across rhubarb often. I will see it in the stores on occasion, but usually only limp skinny stalks hiding next to the anemic green beans and not looking very tasty. Or I’ll see some fresh at the farmer’s market, only to hesitate from buying it because I didn’t have a specific purpose to use it (and eating a whole bunch of it raw by myself might be likened to eating a whole bag of raw lemons). That was until recently, when I ran across an idea that gave me reason to search out some fresh rhubarb (and this time of the year is when it is the best to pick) and rediscover a little bit of my childhood…with a little adult twist.
- 1-1/2 to 2 lbs fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into 3-inch long pieces. If you have thicker stalks (like those pictured), cut each piece in half lengthwise as well.
- 1/2 cup merlot
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice up the rhurbarb and arrange in a 13×9 baking dish. Whisk the honey into the merlot until fully dissolved and pour all over the rhubarb. Sprinkle the mint over the top.
Cook the rhubarb in the oven until tender but not mushy – about 12 minutes. Remove and use a slotted spoon to transfer the rhubarb to a shallow serving bowl.
Collect all of the juice from the pan into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 to 6 minutes until reduced by half. Transfer to a heat-safe prep bowl.
To serve as a side dish, arrange on a plate and drizzle a spoonful of the syrup over top. If you like, you can add a little more finely chopped mint for garnish. Or, if you would like to try it for dessert – serve over some coconut milk that has been frozen in the ice cream maker and then drizzle a spoonful of warm syrup over top. Dig in!