As spring is once again transforming itself into the summer season, we think about how life just wouldn’t be the same without deliciously tangy fresh rhubarb to enjoy—especially the incredible variety we grow on our farm: Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb.
This tart and zesty, brilliantly hued vegetable, alas, has a short season—which is why this time of year is sometimes referred to as the micro-season in which to romance rhubarb. Just as summer romances can come and go, so does our time to enjoy farm-fresh rhubarb.
Our recommendation? Use this veggie in sweet and savory applications alike while you can, as well as in teas, lemonades, cocktails, mocktails and more.
Story of Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb
There’s “rhubarb” and then there’s “Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb”—and they’re about as far apart as lightning and the lightning bug (to paraphrase Mr. Mark Twain).
So, what’s the difference maker?
Farmer Lee Jones believes there two key ones: the land and the growers. First, Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb was originally grown by a couple—named, appropriately enough, Mr. and Mrs. Frye—in the rich sandy loam of Northern Ohio, soil that was once covered with glaciers and now contains fertile lake bottom deposits.
Farmer Lee points out that Mr. and Mrs. Frye were among the best growers of all time, people who truly cared about their work with a passion for growing the best vegetables possible. You never saw one without the other, he recalls, and they took care of all of their rhubarb deliveries together, making new friends and cherishing treasured ones wherever they went.
The couple’s ancestors actually brought this prized rhubarb over from Europe and planted it in Northern Ohio soil. Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb became extremely sought after and the family couldn’t keep up with orders. And, once an aging Mr. Frye could no longer do all of the hard work associated with growing and harvesting his prized crop, the Jones family took it over, having such reverence for him and for his rhubarb. Our of respect for Mr. Frye, the crop we grow is named after him—and will be, forever and ever.
If you ask us, rhubarb tastes like sunshine—but we know that’s pretty vague, so we’ll try to get more specific. It’s a taste sensation that lands at the intersection of fresh celery and green apple with an extra twist of tang—and maybe a touch of cranberry.
In reality, the flavor of rhubarb is so unique that we really recommend you try Mr. Frye’s and let us know how you would describe the taste.
How to Cook Rhubarb
Here’s what Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute has to say about our light green to bright red rhubarb, a variety that holds it brilliant hues under fire: “Although leaves, herbs and flowers can be tart, rhubarb is unique in that it’s a full-on tart vegetable,” Jamie says, “something you can enjoy by the forkful. Rhubarb is delicate, though, and can be mistreated by being buried in sugar. We instead embrace its acidity and even cook it in vinegar. Its unique sour flavor adds a layer of depth to dishes.”
Many diners adore traditional applications of rhubarb—whether that’s a rhubarb-strawberry cobbler, pie, tart, or crisp—and so do we. After all, the one-of-a-kind tartness of fresh rhubarb combines perfectly with sweet ingredients in these desserts for an unforgettable flavor.
Jamie also likes to lean into rhubarb in places where, more typically, lemon or another citrus would be incorporated into a dish. This can include salad dressing; he recently created a simple yet delicious rhubarb-knotweed dressing that he served over poached vegetables.
Chopped rhubarb works wonderfully well when cooked and blended with barbecue sauce; as a flavor brightener on grilled salmon and other fish courses; and pickled.
It’s a perfect complement for lemonades, iced teas, and more, perhaps by creating and adding a simple rhubarb syrup and then using a petite stalk as a garnish. “We’ve made bottled rhubarb soda,” Jamie shares, “out of rhubarb juice and water, sugar and yeast. When fermented in a bottle, the result is a carbonated drink that’s delicious all by itself, and also lends itself well in cocktails.”
Add whole stalks into vodka and gin bottles or create a one-to-one sugar/water mixture that’s blended with cooked rhubarb for Old Fashioned cocktails.
Shave and blanch in cold water
Our only rule is the one that follows: enjoy your rhubarb! If we had a second rule, it would be to expand your creativity and use it in delightfully unexpected ways.
Health Benefits of Rhubarb
“Rhubarb is a rich source of nutrients providing 45% of Daily Value of Vitamin K in a serving size of 1 cup. In addition, rhubarb contains Vitamin C and A, along with Folate, Riboflavin, and Niacin. Rhubarb provides 32% of Daily Value of manganese in a serving. Other nutrient/minerals include Iron, Potassium and Phosphorus. Rhubarb is also comprised of phytochemicals and phenols that provide the body with additional health benefits.” (Penn State)
Some of the health benefits of rhubarb listed by WebMD.com include the following:
Helps to maintain bone health
Assists in blood clotting
Protects the health of your heart
Aids in digestion
Helps to prevent cancer
Fights against inflammation
At The Chef’s Garden, flavor is considered to be royalty: king, queen, prince—and princess, too. And what we’ve learned over the years is that when we regeneratively grow crops for the maximum of flavor, nutrition levels skyrocket. We’d suspected that for many years—decades, actually—but, fairly recently, this has been confirmed by independent lab testing. So, we can confidently share that, at The Chef's Garden, we are growing flavorful, farm-fresh vegetables with 300 to 600 percent more in nutrients than the USDA baseline.
All that nutrition in something that taste delicious!
History of Rhubarb
Rhubarb has been prized for literally thousands of years, being in use for health-related reasons five thousand years ago in China. In ancient times, people in Arabian countries plus Greeks and Romans all appreciated rhubarb—and, to no one’s surprise, Marco Polo found people enjoying an outstanding kind of rhubarb in the Sukchu mountains in China in 1271.
Rhubarb made its way to Western Europe through trade routes in the seventeenth century, with French chefs taking to it quickly. It took a while longer for it to be used in Great Britain but, we know that, in 1770, Benjamin Franklin had possession of a case of rhubarb root. He was in London at the time, and he sent it to the American Colonies, recommending it as a medicine.
By the mid-nineteenth century, British farmers had improved the quality of the rhubarb being grown there and cooks responded by incorporating it into more and more recipes, including those by Mrs. Beeton. In 1829, rhubarb seeds began to be included in American catalogues—and its usage has only increased from that point, with the quality and flavor of Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb being second to none.
Order Fresh Rhubarb for Your Seasonal Dishes and Menus
We invite you to talk to your product specialist about ordering Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb for your seasonal menus. This deliciously tart rhubarb has the zest and zing needed to elevate your creative dishes to yet another level and we look forward to hearing how you use it!
Find more info about rhubarb in our new book, The Chef's Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables--with Recipes.