Talking Rhubarb with Kim Ode

May 24, 2017

"Are you a tugger or a cutter?" According to Star Tribune feature writer Kim Ode, these are the two methods  people use to harvest rhubarb. Ode is a tugger, as was her mother. And even though the spring has been unusually cool, the rhubarb is thriving!

Kim Ode's book, Rhubarb Renaissance, is published by MN Historical Society Press. Kim says, "Rhubarb is a vegetable. Its tartness informs whatever direction you take it. Tart is this marvelous quality...we like tart...and it's also crisp. It's like a tart celery."

Kim's relationship with rhubarb goes back to her South Dakota childhood. She was familiar with rhubarb in pies and cobblers,  but when MN Historical Society asked her to write the book they wanted half the recipes to be savory. "I found that rhubarb is wonderful with any white meat--chicken, pork, shrimp...Rhubarb and shrimp--it's like a marriage made in heaven!"

She described her method for making "Shrimp in Kimonos:"

Make a chutney or compote with herbs: rhubarb and rosemary go well together. Saute together with onions, and add a little brown sugar. "You need a little sweetening to boost that 'rhubarbiness.'" Make this into a jammy compote. Pop a teaspoon in the middle of a wonton wrapper, put a shrimp on top of that, then wrap it up and deep fry it for a couple minutes. "It's a wonderful appetizer because you have your dipping sauce right in the wonton wrapper."

Our conversation with Kim is below. It includes where rhubarb originated, how and when to harvest the plant, how to preserve it, and its nutritional benefits. She describes two more of her favorite recipes: rhubarb curd and pickled rhubarb in kale salad.

As Midwesterners, we're fortunate that rhubarb grows where we live. That isn't the case everywhere. The plant needs to freeze in winter. "It's kind of 'our' food," says Kim. "It's generational."