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Pick Fresh Rhubarb's Possibilities

It’s not only pie that makes the most of this spring vegetable.

Frozen is one way to go, but it's practically a rite of spring for cooks who love fresh rhubarb to prepare the red stalks.

Remember that hothouse rhubarb is less tart than that from the garden later on, so you may need to reduce the amount of sugar called for in old-fashioned rhubarb recipes written for the garden type.

For the prettiest rhubarb pies and sauces, buy the reddest stalks you can find. Trim off the leaves, if still attached. The leaves can be poisonous if eaten in quantity. Most markets sell only trimmed rhubarb. After rinsing the stalks, slice crosswise. One pound of rhubarb yields about three cups slices.

Don't forget that a simmered rhubarb sauce or chutney is a perfect condiment to serve in a cut-glass bowl along with an Easter ham. Celebrity chefs have been known to team a signature rhubarb sauce with glazed, roast duck quarters or tea-brined pork loin.

Rhubarb Chutney

Enjoy this chutney on crackers and peanut butter, or serve as a relish with ham, pork or chicken.

Recipe adapted from Life's Little Rhubarb Cookbook: 101 Rhubarb Recipes by Joan Bestwick (Avery Color Studios' paperback, 1999).

Ingredients:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup raisins
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2/3 cup snipped dates
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Preparation:

In a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat, combine brown sugar, vinegar, water, salt, dry mustard, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Gently boil uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir in onion and raisins. Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add rhubarb and dates; simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, toast slivered almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Shake pan and watch closely until nuts turn golden. Stir into the thickened chutney. Cool and store in glass jars, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Yield: About 3 cups

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