Rhubarb offers a tart, fresh taste of early springtime

Rhubarb is not a fruit, but a vegetable. It is, however, always used as a fruit, in sweet dishes and preserves and pies. Many people enjoy rhubarb in its simplest way --stewed. The best way to stew rhubarb is in a slow oven, uncovered, so that the pieces remain whole. Don't add any liquid. A little butter, brown sugar or honey, and some spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves will add flavor. You may also add some orange or lemon peel. Serve it hot or cold with ice cream or heavy cream.

Here are some other recipes for enjoying the tart, refreshing taste of rhubarb. Pork Shoulder With Rhubarb 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 4 1/2- to 5-pound pork shoul der blade roast, boneless Orange juice 3 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into large chunks 1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a small cup, combine salt, ginger, and pepper. Rub into surface of roast. Place pork roast, fat side up, on rack in open roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer into center of roast. Roast about 3 hours or until meat reaches 170 degrees F., basting occasionally with one-half cup orange juice.

Meanwhile, in 3-quart saucepan, over medium heat, heat rhubarb, sugar, and 4 tablespoons orange juice to boiling. Reduce heat to low. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes until rhubarb is just tender but not mushy, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Place roast on warm platter. Let stand 15 minutes for easier carving. Remove strings. With slotted spoon, place rhubarb on platter around roast. Serves 12.

Bananas, oranges, pineapple, raspberries, and apples complement rhubarb, but the original and still favorite combination is strawberry-rhubarb as in these muffins. Strawberry-Rhubarb Muffins 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1/2 cup sugar 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 egg, slightly beaten 3/4 cup milk 1/3 cup vegetable or peanut oil 3/4 cup fresh rhubarb, minced 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, preferably fresh

Sift together in large mixing bowl, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Combine slightly beaten egg, milk, and oil in small bowl. Stir into flour mixture with a fork. Stir just until moistened. Fold minced rhubarb and sliced strawberries into batter.

Fill greased muffin cups two-thirds full. If desired, press strawberry half on top of each muffin. Sprinkle generously with additional sugar. Bake in a 400 degrees F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or till muffins are golden. Remove muffins from cups and cool on wire rack. Makes 1 dozen. Sour Cream-Rhubarb Squares Topping: 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup chopped nuts 1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine 1 teaspoon cinnamon Batter: 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/2 cup shortening 1 egg 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup dairy sour cream 2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch lengths

Mix together granulated sugar, nuts, melted butter, and cinnamon until crumbly. Set aside. Cream together brown sugar, shortening, and egg. Sift together flour, soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Beat thoroughly. Stir in rhubarb.

Turn batter into greased and floured 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with reserved topping. Bake in a 350 degrees F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Cut in squares. Rhubarb-Cream Cheese Pie 4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces 1 1/2 cups sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell 1 8-ounce package cream cheese 2 eggs 1 cup sour cream

Almonds for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In medium saucepan over medium heat, cook rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt, stirring often, until mixture boils and thickens. Pour into pie shell. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese, eggs , and one-half cup sugar until smooth. Pour over rhubarb mixture. Turn oven control to 350 degrees F. Bake pie 30 to 35 minutes until set. Cool on wire rack. Chill. Before serving, spread sour cream on top of pi e. Garnish with almonds. Serves 8.

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