Rhubarb is a harbinger of spring. When little else is available to eat from the early spring garden, the long red stalks with fanning leaves offer to cooks a strong, tart fruit (okay, technically vegetable) to incorporate into their dishes.
Rhubarb, traditionally used by the Chinese for medicinal purposes, made its first appearance in the United States in the late 18th century when the English transported the plant to the colonies. Known colloquially as the “pie plant,” rhubarb is easy to grow in the Northeast, and many New England farmers and gardeners have their own rhubarb patches.
The rhubarb stalk is the edible part of the plant (the dark green leaves are toxic), but because of its incredibly tart nature, rhubarb often requires sweetening to make it palatable. In the tradition of the frugal Yankee, rhubarb is often preserved in a variety of ways, including sauces, jams, and spirits.
This recipe for rhubarb wine comes from Spider Bread, Cider Pie, & Rhubarb Wine, published in 2001 by the Members and Friends of the Weathersfield, Vermont Historical Society. This cookbook is available in the University of Vermont’s Department of Special Collections (call number: TX719 .S65 2001).
2 quarts cut-up rhubarb
2 quarts boiling water
2 pounds white sugar
1 pound seeded raisins
1 yeast cake (or 1 tablespoon dry yeast)
Mix rhubarb and boiling water. Let it stand until cool. Add sugar, raisins, and yeast. Let it stand two weeks, stirring it every day. Strain through a cheesecloth. Put in a jar and let it settle for two weeks, then bottle it.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting recipes that interweave the culture and history of cooking in Vermont, and is related to the Vermont Foodways Digital Initiative.