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19th century book cover that has gold lettering that reads rhubarb culture and gold design of rhubarb.
Book cover from Rhubarb Culture by Fred S. Thompson (1894)

Rhubarb Marmalades and More: Recipes from our U.S. Historical Community Cookbooks

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Are you wondering what to do with your rhubarb harvest? Do you want to be adventurous and try something a bit different from a traditional strawberry rhubarb pie or jam?

Two ladies standing next to each other displaying a large rhubarb stalk that is as tall as them.
Rhubarb stalk in southeastern Alaska. Frank and Frances Carpenter collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

I spent some time exploring the Library’s digital collection of early U.S. community cookbooks, seeking out forgotten recipes that feature rhubarb. In searching for these recipes one of the terms I looked for was “pie plant,” since this is a common name for the vegetable. Vegetable? — You read that right, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable, however, it is legally considered a fruit by U.S. Customs since it is commonly used commercially in sweet dishes such as pies, jams, and jellies.

I found no shortage of recipes including rhubarb in our historical community cookbooks, especially in titles from the Midwest. I focused on looking for rhubarb jam and jelly recipes, partly inspired by my grandfather’s strawberry rhubarb jam, but also for practical reasons — with jellies and jams, you can share jars of your creations with friends and family or preserve your harvest to consume later.

What I discovered were creative recipes that use rhubarb in marmalades. Generally speaking, marmalades refer to jellies that have suspended fruit or vegetables. However, some definitions of marmalades are rather strict and are solely used to describe jellies or preserves made of citrus fruit.

The 1906 Columbian Cook Book of Tested Recipes (Boise, Idaho) contains a recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade (pg. 148) that uses Jamaica ginger (extract) and almonds:

Recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade by Mrs. Leonard Logan

Eight pounds of rhubarb, cut fine; 6 pounds of granulated sugar; cook 20 mins with a little water, then add the following: Five lemons, juice and rind, (rind chopped fine); one-half pound blanched almonds, chopped fine; one-half wine glass of Jamaica ginger; 1 orange, juice and rind; cook all together 30 mins, or until quick thick.

A printed recipe for rhubarb marmalade published in the 1906 cookbook from Boise, Idaho.
A Rhubarb Marmalade recipe that uses ginger and almonds from the 1906 Columbian Cook Book of Tested Recipes (Boise, Idaho) pg. 149

The  1911 Queen Esther Cook Book (Evanston, IL) includes a more traditional marmalade recipe (pg. 119) that uses orange with rhubarb:

Recipe for Rhubarb and Orange Marmalade by Jennie Woodworth Barrett

Three large oranges, 18 medium stalks rhubarb. Slice oranges very fine and rhubarb in 1/2 in. pieces without removing skins. Mix, measure, and add equal amount of sugar. Mix thoroughly and let stand 3 or 4 hours or over night. Then boil rapidly until a little on ice will thicken like jelly.

A printed recipe for rhubarb marmalade published in the 1911 cookbook from Evanston, Illinois
A Rhubarb and Orange Marmalade recipe from the 1911 Queen Esther Cook Book (Evanston, IL) pg. 119

Moving to the West Coast, the Mobilized Women’s Organizations of Berkeley incorporates raisins and walnuts (pg. 175) in a rhubarb marmalade recipe in their 1918 Conservation Recipes, a First World War-era cookbook:

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients: 2 qts. rhubarb, 1 orange, 1/2 raisins, 1 qt. sugar, and 1/2 cup of walnuts.

Directions: Wash, pare, and cut rhubarb into one-half inch pieces. Add sugar, cover and let stand over night. In the morning add the grated rind and juice of the orange, seeded raisins, and walnuts, cut in small pieces. Cook slowly until thick. Store in a stone jar or pour into sterilized glasses.

A printed recipe for rhubarb marmalade published in an1918 cookbook from Berkeley, CA,
Rhubarb marmalade that uses walnuts and raisins from the 1918 Conservation Recipes (Berkeley, CA), pg. 175

I also discovered a rhubarb spread that incorporates figs to make a butter (pg. 259) in the 1907 Monmouth Baptist Ladies Cook Book (Monmouth, IL). This recipe is not for a dairy butter, rather it is for a substance that resembles the look and feel of butter.

Recipe for Pieplant and Fig Butter by Miss Mary Pillsbury from Macomb, Illinois

Eight pounds of pie plant already for cooking, six pounds of white sugar, two pounds of figs; cut them in two parts and soak over night in cold water. In the morning cook them in the same water until soft, then skim them out and chop fine. Strain the water and put it with the pie plant, sugar and figs and cook it down to butter. Can.

A printed recipe for pie plant (rhubarb) and fig butter published in the 1907 cookbook from Monmouth, Illinois.
A rhubarb and fig butter recipe from the 1907 Monmouth Baptist Ladies Cook Book (Monmouth, IL), pg. 259

For a finale, a showstopper from the 1909 Mendelssohn Club Cook Book (Rockford, IL) that uses rhubarb jelly (i.e. gelatin or jello) in a “fancy ring mold” with whipped cream:

Recipe for Rhubarb Jelly with Whipped Cream

Wash and cut in 3/4 inch pieces 1 pound of fresh rhubarb. Put into a baking dish with 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, 1 1/2 inch piece of Canton ginger, 3 shavings lemon peel 3/4 inch long. Cover, bake in oven until tender. Remove from oven; cool, and pick out lemon peel and ginger. To this add 2 level teaspoons granulated gelatine and the package of coloring found in each box, previously soaked in 1/2 cup cold water and dissolved over hot water. Lastly, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Turn the mixture into a fancy ring mold which has been chilled, and wet with cold water. Place on ice. When thoroughly chilled, turn on fancy platter, heap whipped cream in center and drop large spoonfuls around mold of jelly. Garnish each with a Maraschino cherry.

A printed recipe for rhubarb jelly with whipped cream published in a 1909 cookbook from Rockford, Illinois.
A Rhubarb Jelly with Whipped Cream recipe from the 1909 Mendelssohn Club Cook Book (Rockford, IL)

Please note, the directions in these historical cookbooks might not contain details that modern home cooks expect, such as baking/cooking temperatures and times, food prep instructions,  food safety guidelines, etc – Cooks wishing to create these treats may need to do some searching online to figure those things out.

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