Rhubarb season, like asparagus season, is eagerly awaited at our house. Andrew cannot wait to get his hands on the slender red and green stalks and get into the kitchen to bake. The first rhubarb of the season is always preferable to what comes later: The thicker the stalks, the tougher and stringier the rhubarb. This may account for the love it or hate it reputation rhubarb has. Notoriously tart, its natural companion is sugar to compensate for the bite. These muffins however are not overly sweet, the Sour cream added to the batter keeps them that way. The cinnamon gives them an irresistible scent.
Botanically rhubarb is a vegetable. But in 1947 a court in New York ruled, in a burst of judicial clarity, that since it was used as a fruit in the US, it should be counted as a fruit for “purposes of regulations and duties”. Since tariffs were higher for vegetables than fruits, the net effect of this ruling was that rhubarb was cheaper to import. Despite having been grown in China for at least 2700 years and being brought to Europe by Marco Polo, rhubarb has only been grown in this country since about 1820. It was brought to Maine and Massachusetts by European settlers and moved westward from there. If you do grow your own rhubarb –which is relatively easy to do as it’s a hardy perennial--note that only the stalks are edible. The leaves in fact are poisonous. Here’s the recipe for this wonderful seasonal treat, best served warm which can easily be accomplished by re-heating them at 350 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes.