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Rhubarb marks the beginning of the bounty

Prairie Fare: Rhubarb Juice Concentrate, Field Hand French Toast Fingers with Stewed Rhubarb, Classic Stewed Rhubarb

There’s nothing like the first rhubarb crisp to herald the arrival of spring and the bounty of fresh local produce that will grace our tables for the next six months. But just how much do you know about this harbinger of spring? Challenge yourself and others with this rhubarb quiz and find out.

1) Is rhubarb a fruit or vegetable?

We use it like fruit in the kitchen, but botanically, it’s a vegetable. Fruits are the fleshy parts that surround seeds and come from flowers. Leaves, stalks and roots of plants are considered vegetables.

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2) Are rhubarb leaves poisonous?

Yes. According to The US National Library of Medicine, high levels of oxalates and anthraquinone glycosides are what make rhubarb leaves poisonous. However, a 150-lb. adult would need to eat about 11 lbs. of rhubarb leaves to cause death. Smaller quantities may cause a burning in your mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, eye pain, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, kidney stones, seizures, or coma. All reasons to avoid eating rhubarb leaves.

3) Can rhubarb leaves go in the compost?

Rhubarb leaves do not pose any danger to microbes in your compost bin, go ahead compost them.

4) How do you know when rhubarb is ready to harvest?

If you guessed colour, you’re incorrect. Colour indicates variety, not ripeness. Rhubarb varieties may be all green, a mix of green and red, or all red. The Canada Red or Victoria varieties are favoured for their vibrant red colour and slightly sweeter taste. Rhubarb is ready to harvest when stems are about 25 to 40 cm (eight to 15 inches) long.

5) Can rhubarb be harvested after it has gone to seed?

Yes, rhubarb can be harvested all season. Stalks are at their best in spring and fall, with the most tender stalks coming before rhubarb has gone to seed. After the seed stalk appears, it’s the summer heat and low moisture levels that keep rhubarb relatively inactive. But cool, fall air offers a final opportunity to pick more rhubarb.

To encourage good plant growth, keep one-third of stalks on the plant at springtime and two-thirds of the stalks in fall. This will allow the plant to draw adequate moisture and nutrients to its roots.

6) Can I eat rhubarb after a frost?

In May 2015, the University of Illinois issued a warning not to consume rhubarb touched by hard frost. While many took this to mean all rhubarb was unsafe to eat, the advice clearly stated “Rhubarb should not be harvested when the leaves are wilted and limp after a hard freeze.”

7) What nutrients are found in rhubarb?

Rhubarb contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, dietary fibre, calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium among other minerals and organic compounds. It has been touted for its laxative properties and high levels of vitamin K, potassium and calcium.

In addition to rhubarb pie, muffins and crisps, here are a few ways to enjoy rhubarb this spring, including one recipe to take out to the field.

Rhubarb Juice Concentrate

Extend your repertoire of rhubarb recipes with unsweetened rhubarb juice concentrate. Use it in salad dressings, sweet and sour sauces, or in summertime beverages like iced tea, lemonade or martinis.

  • 4 cups diced rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup water

In large saucepan combine rhubarb and water.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until rhubarb is soft and breaks apart easily.

Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer or sieve.

Use the back of a spoon to squeeze out any remaining liquid.

Use juice for various recipes, mix with Sprite or ginger ale or freeze as ice cubes to perk up your favourite summer beverage.

Store in refrigerator for 5 to 7 days or freeze for longer storage.

Use the leftover pulp in smoothies, mixed with applesauce or mixed with a little honey on top of toast or waffles.

Yield: 1-1/2 cups juice concentrate

Field Hand French Toast Fingers with Stewed Rhubarb

Serve these French Toast fingers hot or cold on or off the field. Serve with a cup of stewed rhubarb to easily dip into instead of fussing with sticky, runny syrup. Be sure to use thick cut or slightly stale bread to make them sturdy enough to pick up.

  • 6 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 10-12 thick-cut, slightly stale bread slices
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 cups stewed rhubarb

In large bowl, thoroughly whisk eggs to ensure egg whites and yolks are completely mixed.

Add milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well. Mix will be slightly thicker than regular French Toast batter.

Slice bread into 3/4- to 1-inch slices.

Dip bread pieces in egg mixture.

In large skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat (add the remaining oil to the pan as needed throughout cooking).

Add dipped bread fingers to skillet and cook over medium-high heat until brown on all four sides and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.

Remove from pan.

Serve immediately or let cool on wire rack and serve cold with stewed rhubarb.

Freeze leftovers. Pop in toaster to reheat.

Yield: 30 – 40 fingers

Classic Stewed Rhubarb

  • A delicious sauce you can eat on its own or served as a topping on foods such as toast, cake, ice cream, pancakes, French toast or waffles. Serve warm or cold.
  • 4 cups diced rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice or water
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or more as desired)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

In a large saucepan, bring rhubarb (thaw frozen rhubarb), orange juice and sugar to boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until rhubarb is tender and pieces are the desired softness. The longer you cook the rhubarb the more the rhubarb pieces will break down.

Stir in cinnamon.

Taste and adjust sweetness as desired.


Add 1/2 cup strawberries or raspberries to pump up the red colour and add natural sweetness.

For a thicker, stiffer sauce mix 1 tbsp. cornstarch with 2 tbsp. water. Add to rhubarb mix and bring back to boil until sauce thickens.

Yield: 2 cups


About the author


Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit



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