I remember the first time I saw rhubarb. I glanced at it and thought to myself, "What an interesting shade of celery." Then upon closer inspection I saw that it wasn't celery at all. As a food writer, I've eaten many things, but never rhubarb. It's really not grown too much in the South — primarily in Washington, Oregon and Michigan. That doesn't mean it's not available here. I've seen it at Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Publix, among other stores.

Rhubarb is mostly used in sweet dishes, but sometimes it serves as a savory ingredient. The flavor is tart — too tart for some, but I've found it quite nice. Kind of like a SweeTart candy. Its leaves are toxic, but the stalks can be used as an ingredient in pies, preserves, cakes and more, such as these bars from "The Catskills Farm to Table Cookbook," by Courtney Wade.

Rhubarb is not available year-round, so when you see it in produce sections this spring, take some home and experiment with an ingredient you may not have tried before.

Rhubarb Crisp Bars

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup flax seeds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

7 cups fresh rhubarb (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), sliced

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with foil, and lightly grease. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oats, flour, flax and cinnamon until mixed. Add the butter and, with an electric mixer, mix until completely combined.

Set aside 1 cup of packed mixture. Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until dry and golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine rhubarb, cornstarch and sugar in a large bowl. Spread rhubarb mixture on top of baked crust. Spread remaining crumble mixture over filling, and press down slightly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until filling is thickened and bubbly and topping is golden.

Cool bars to room temperature, and chill before cutting to allow them to set. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 18 bars.

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Anne Braly