Saturday, May 23, 2009

Count Down to National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day...

Photos (Lexi Van de Walle): Strawberries from N. Carolina, fresh chopped rhubarb and grated ginger, lemon and orange zest.

I feel like I'm getting my life back. I've still got a little bit of the flu but I was able to bring up the planters from the basement and get over to Hayground Farm Stand to pick up a few local treats for the weekend. I've been dreaming about Long Island strawberries but of course it's a few weeks away until strawberry season around here. When I saw the "Southern" strawberries, I found out they are from a farm in North Carolina. I grabbed a bunch of rhubarb and a quart of strawberries -- while not local, they were fresh, juicy, and delicious strawberries (and thankfully not the over-sized, tasteless strawberries from Calfornia!)

When I got home, I immediately discarded the highly toxic leaves from the rhubarb (our new puppy is into everything), sprinkled the stalks with some water and put them in the crisper (rhubarb wilts easy so it's best to use the stalks right away or dice into 1 inch pieces and freeze -- they do freeze pretty well). Strawberries are best stored at room temperature and used the same day or refrigerated if you want to keep them overnight or longer.

While I love a good pie, I like to make a low calorie and tasty compote with rhubarb, strawberries and orange juice for everyday use. I usually add some ginger and orange and lemon zest. Some people add sugar right away, but I like to wait until it's almost cook and sweeten to taste -- most strawberry rhubarb is too sweet in my humble opinion.

Serve over ice cream or sorbet for dessert, with yogurt for breakfast or a snack, over pancakes and waffles, or simply eat warm out of a bowl.

As a child, we made homemade strawberry rhubarb pies every Saturday night in June for many years (or bought one at the original Amagansett Farmers Market farm stand -- homemade, of course).

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote:

4 rhubarb stalks (about 2 cups), cleaned, chopped into 1 inch pieces (discard the toxic leaves)

1 pint (2 cups) strawberries, hulled, halved (or whole if the berries are small)

1 orange, juiced

3/4 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, if desired

3/4 teaspoon of lemon zest

3/4 teaspoon of orange zest

Sugar, or local honey or NY State maple syrup, to taste

Add strawberries and rhubarb to a heavy saucepan along with grated ginger root, lemon zest and orange zest. Pour orange juice over the mixture. Bring to a simmer for approximately 7 minutes, stirring carefully until fruit begins to wilt. Do not overcook. Taste. Add a few teaspoons of sugar, honey or maple syrup, if needed, and let simmer one more minute to incorporate the sugar.

If compote is too liquidy, pour through a sieve/strainer and save the extra liquid -- it makes a delicious soda when added to selzer water.



Many people think rhubarb is a fruit because it's often served with other fruit, such as strawberries, as dessert or in a jam, but it's a vegetable. Deep red, pink and green stalks, similar in shape and texture to celery, are tart to taste so complement sweet fruits quite well. Origionally from Asia, rhubarb came to the US in the late 18th century and is now available around the world. It's at farmers markets from April to early June in the northeastern US (June 9th is National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day -- who knew?). Rhubarb is very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and manganese. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, rhubarb has been used for centuries to treat stomach ulcers, constipation and inflammation, however, at this time there are few clinical studies to support these claims.

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