Rhubarb, often referred to as a pie plant — and really a vegetable — is just beginning to appear around town and in the farmers’ market. Long cultivated as a medicinal plant in Asia (thought to cure fevers and other ailments), the garden or culinary variety is probably best known for its use as a pie filling, sweet and savory, and as a classic pairing with strawberries. High in acid with a tart, bright flavor profile, think of rhubarb as giving an added zing to your favorite desserts or cooked dishes.

Rhubarb tends to be fleeting, arriving when you least expect it, and vanishing just as easily, so I’m all for grabbing it while you can. But a rhubarb scuffle? April Fools or not, I had to laugh at this one. And yes, rhubarb is really that good. Pick some up and go home and bake that rhubarb crisp or pie.

Buying and Storing: Look for fleshy, bright rosy-colored stalks when purchasing, keep refrigerated and try to use within a few days. Rhubarb freezes well — either cooked or not. If freezing, cut stalks into smaller pieces, then freeze on a flat tray before transferring to a storage bag.

Rhubarb makes a lovely sorbet or sauce, and is a great foil for rich meats and fish dishes too. It is simply divine baked with a little sweetener. For an easy dessert, toss sliced rhubarb with a little sugar, a squeeze of fresh orange juice, and a pinch of cinnamon. Place in a baking pan and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees until stalks are tender to the bite, but not mushy — about 15 minutes. Top with ice cream or a thick, creamy yogurt.

Berkeley Farmers Markets take place on Tuesdays, 2-6pm, at Derby Street @ MLK Jr. Way; Thursdays, 2-6pm, at Shattuck @ Rose Street; and on Saturdays, 10am-3pm, at Center Street @ MLK Jr. Way.

Romney Steele is a freelance writer, cook and artist, and the author of My Nepenthe. Read her previous Market Reports here.

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