Vegetable or fruit?

Rhubarb is generally considered a fruit --- otherwise, why would we call it the pie plant? --- but it's related to dock, sorrel and buckwheat, which makes it a vegetable. In 1947, a New York court decided the issue when it ruled that since we use rhubarb as a fruit it would be counted a fruit for regulatory purposes.

Whichever it is, rhubarb was introduced in the U.S. in the 1820s and remains one of spring's most anticipated harvests. Crisp, sour-tart, jewel-toned red to pinkish green stalks are chopped, diced, stewed, sauced and "jammed" into flavorful pies, cobblers, buckles, cakes, bread, fools and much more.

A cautionary note: Never eat the roots or leaves, which contain oxalic acid crystals that are dangerous to consume. These recipes were gathered from food websites, including Epicurious and Land o' Lakes.

Rhubarb Fool

A 'fool' is a dessert combining tart fruit and whipped cream.

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 4 cups or 1 pound prepped)

1/2 cup honey

Zest and juice of 1 orange

2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

1/2 vanilla bean, split

Pinch of fine sea salt

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Candied Rhubarb Strips:

1 stalk rhubarb

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

To make the fool, put rhubarb, honey, orange zest and juice, candied ginger, vanilla bean, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine, then cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, for 10 minutes, until the mixture has come to a boil and rhubarb has softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then remove vanilla bean. Transfer compote to a bowl, and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes, until very cold.

Whip cream and sugar until soft peaks form, either by hand or using an electric mixer on medium speed. Set aside 1/3 cup of the compote to garnish the dessert, then fold the remaining compote into the whipped cream. Spoon the fool into six 1/2-cup glasses or dishes and chill for 1 hour before serving topped with the remaining compote.

Storage: This fool is best served the day it is made, but any leftovers can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

If you would like to garnish the dessert with candied rhubarb strips, make them first: Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or lightly greased parchment paper.

Cut the rhubarb into 6-inch lengths, then cut each piece into strips 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch thick with a good peeler, a mandoline, or a well-positioned knife. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove from the heat. Dip rhubarb ribbons into the syrup, then place them on the prepared baking sheet, laying them out flat and ensuring that they do not touch each other.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until dry. While they are still warm, twist the strips into shapes, wrapping them around your finger or the handle of a clean wooden spoon. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Strawberry Rhubarb

Dessert Bars

The pie flavors of strawberries and rhubarb go together perfectly in this oatmeal crust bar.

Makes 36 bars

Filling:

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Drizzle:

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons milk

Combine rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice in 2-quart saucepan. Cover; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit is tender (8 to 12 minutes). Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch in small bowl. Stir into fruit mixture. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil (about 1 minute). Continue boiling until thickened (1 minute). Remove from heat. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 F. Combine all crust ingredients in large bowl. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Reserve 1 1/2 cups crumb mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture onto bottom of greased 13x9-inch baking pan. Spread filling over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Combine all drizzle ingredients in small bowl. Drizzle over cooled bars. Cut into bars.

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