Fall is the time to rid your rhubarb plot of fungal diseases. If there are or were brown spots on your rhubarb leaves, be sure to remove all of those leaves from the garden and send them to the trash, not to the compost pile. These fungal spores can live through the winter on dead leaves, ready to ride the wind and infect your plants next spring.¹
Since I live in the South, I don’t get much rhubarb and have never tried to grow it here. It does not like our hot summers but most of all, it requires more winter cold than is available here. I have read about some new varieties that have low chill requirements but I have not been able to find any of these rhubarb plants for sale. I do wish I could grow it here because I love rhubarb pie like Mama used to make. Back in Ohio where I grew up our rhubarb patch came with the farm. It died down every winter and came back up every spring. To my knowledge, we never did anything to it. It grew at the edge of the lawn beside a hard path.
My dolls and I would often have tea parties under the big cedar trees using rhubarb leaves as plates. I have eaten the stalks raw with a good dosing of sugar, but my favorite is Mama’s rhubarb custard pie. I know many folks like rhubarb/strawberry pie, but I never developed a liking for the combination. I do love the sweet and sour play-off of the flavors in the custard pie. Be aware that the only edible portions of the pie plant are the stems. The leaves are highly toxic. They contain oxalic acid, a poisonous substance that survives the heat of cooking. Be sure to remove the leaves when you harvest the rhubarb.
RHUBARB GROWING INSTRUCTIONS
Stop harvesting when the days heat up. Keep the rhubarb watered when there is not sufficient rainfall. Remove any flower heads as they appear. Allowing the plants to bloom and set seed will take nutrients away from the roots and crowns, weakening the plants. (USDA Zones 5-7, full sun, part shade.)
RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Last spring I was thrilled to find fresh rhubarb stalks in the local Piggly Wiggly. I brought home a pound and made my Mama’s pie, only I substituted granulated Splenda for the sugar in the recipe. Although Splenda says to use it in the same measurements as sugar, I find it too sweet to use that way, so I didn’t use quite so much. I did use sugar sprinkled on the top crust. This pie brings back many childhood memories.
Oven 400 degrees F.
9-inch pie plate lined with pastry dough & top crust (I used store bought.)
2 Tablespoons butter
Rhubarb stalks (about 1 pound) washed and cut into 1-inch slices to make 4 cups
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 cups granulated Splenda (1 ½ cups sugar if not using Splenda)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Beat the blended dry ingredients into the eggs. Then fold in the cut rhubarb. Fill the pie plate pastry and dot the top of the filling with butter. Cover with a top crust, brush it with butter, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Cool completely before serving and keep leftovers refrigerated.
Note: My store-bought rhubarb was quite “stringy” so I pulled off the outer layer of strings before I chopped it, much as I string tough celery.
By Susan Martin for Proven Winners,
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners
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