First Fruit of Spring Rhubarb - Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Rhubarb is one of those old fashion fruits.  Every Midwestern farm wife had a couple plants out in the garden.  It's fallen out of fashion these days, but it's time for a comeback.  Rhubarb is a long lived perennial and one of the first things ready to pick in the garden.  If spring could be summed up in three plants it would be daffodils, asparagus and rhubarb.  Rhubarb is not quite as fleeting as say morels or spring onions.  It's a fruit that can be harvested right up to the 4th of July.  Then you should stop so the plant can store some energy to make it through the winter. 

I recently read the rumor that rhubarb is poisonous before it's cooked.  Is this true?  Is rhubarb poisonous raw?  Jeff's grandmother often gave him a stalk to chew on right out of the garden.  Was she inadvertently poisoning her grandchild?  He grew up to be my handsome husband, so I think not.  According to the Center for Disease Control, CDC, yes rhubarb is poisonous:
Never eat rhubarb leaves, cooked or raw. Eating the leaves can be poisonous because they contain oxalate. This toxin, plus another unknown toxin also found in the leaves, has been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.
But apparently it's only the leaves.  Rhubarb is really sour so I'm not sure why you would eat large quantities and the leaves feel like sandpaper, so they aren't really appetizing anyways.  It's the stalk that gets all the glory.  The beautiful green with red speckle stalks. 
Jeff's Grandma also has a Rhubarb Pie recipe.  It's right next to the baked asparagus recipe.  It's a lot of sugar.  But rhubarb needs a lot of sugar to balance the sour.  A cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment to this spring dessert:

Rhubarb Pie

3 cups diced rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon quick cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 a lemon worth of lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of nutmeg
2 pie crusts

Step 1:  Line a nine-inch pie tin with half of the pastry and sprinkle with a little flour - put in fridge until ready to fill. 

Step 2: Combine rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, lemon zest and salt.  Turn into pie shell.  Sprinkle with nutmeg and dot with butter. 

Step 3:  Arrange a lattice of pastry strips on top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour. 

Tip - my experience is the pie tends to bubble their rhubarb filling up over the edges and all over the bottom of the oven.  Which is why a cookie sheet underneath is helpful as well as using a deep dish pie plate. 

Unfortunately I took pictures of the end result, but none of them were very pretty.  I'll take pictures the next time we bake with rhubarb. 


  1. Sorry the end pix didn't turn out, would have loved to see them. I often have that problem since I am using an IPhone and don't have the steadiest hands. Also love the pic you have for your header. Keep up the great cooking.


  2. Anonymous5/15/2010

    Sounds way good :)LOVE Rhubarb!

  3. Rhubarb is a seriously glorious plant. I love the sound of this pie!

  4. Anonymous5/16/2010

    Thanks for the recipe. I have a rhubarb plant but have never cooked with it. But I know I have been telling myself I will this year so I I am going to try this recipe out.

  5. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous because of the oxalic acid, the same thing that makes spinach and other greens something you shouldn't eat too much of. It blocks the absorption of iron. The flower and roots are actually used in holistic medicine regularly. The stalks raw are not poisonous, though. I know of many, many folks (including my children) who would be long gone by now :) I love rhubarb. We have a 25 foot row we transplanted from another farm's old plot last year and are waiting rather impatiently for it to get big and pretty. It will most likely be another year before we can harvest more than the occasional stalk for snacking on. There are so many varieties, as well, from red to green to speckled pink like your picture. A very under-appreciated veggie!