Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tomato is a fruit and Rhubarb is a vegetable

Rosemary Rhubarb Yogurt Parfait(left); Tomato Jam & Cheddar on Archipelago bread (right)

Tomato is a fruit and Rhubarb is a vegetable.  !?  This is what I pondered today while I was cooking them into preserves.

This always confused me a bit as kid.  Tomato was most frequently experienced through tomato sauce over spaghetti, and tasted anything but fruity to me.  Rhubarb, on the other hand, was piled deep into pie shells, combined with sugar and flour to make a thick delectable filling for Rhubarb pie or Strawberry-Rhubarb pie served up with ice cream, or else made into a jam.  Nothing about Rhubarb made sense inside of my understanding of the vegetable world.

Not that this was something I spent a lot of time mulling over - typically I was happy to dig in to whatever great food was on offer.

Turns out that I wasn't the only one who was confused - and New York courts didn't help matters when it came to providing a clear answer:  in 1947 it was ruled that Rhubarb, long considered a vegetable, was actually a fruit, because that was how it was used in the USA, cooked primarily into sweet dishes.  The change in designation meant that lower duties and tariffs were paid on the import of rhubarb - a boon for consumers - as tariffs were lower on fruits than vegetables.  This corresponded with my consumption of rhubarb - always in sweet dishes.

Rhubarb's red, pink & green stalks - tart & delicious

But it turns out that New York got it wrong.   Rhubarb, according to botanists, is indeed a vegetable after all, regardless of what it is cooked with.  At the end of the day, when standing in the kitchen, it's up to you how you want to cook it.  Bring on the pie!

Recently, though, I've had rhubarb in an unexpected way:  Stuffed into the belly of a whole pike fish (hauki) along with steamed nettles, chopped onion and salt and pepper.  The brain child of Finnish chef Kenneth Oker-Blom, the stuffed fish is baked in the oven for 30 minutes and comes out moist and tender with a flavor reminiscent of saffron - a flavorful and elegant dish.  If you make this - use a pike/hauki of no larger than 2kg for the best results.  The recipe is published in his book 101 Haukireseptiä.

Today I had a pile of rhubarb stalks to use up and cooked it into very simple compote with the hint of rosemary lingering at the back of the palate.  We'll eat some now as dessert and freeze some for later.  If you do this with the recipe below, here are some ways you can use it:

  • Rosemary Rhubarb Yogurt parfait
  • over ice cream
  • in baked tartlette shells with a spoonful of whipped cream
  • over oatmeal
  • over pancakes, french toast or waffles
  • along side a bowl of rice pudding
  • Or go savory with this link from TheKitchn
Tomato Basil Jam - look at the glorious color!

And that brings us back to tomatoes, if only because preserving tomatoes and rhubarb was on my list of things to do today.  Tomatoes are a fruit.  Why?  Because they contain the seed from which the plant produces new plants - much like nuts, berries, and stone fruit...and beans and peas...which are broadly considered vegetables.  Oh boy.  But tomatoes are used like a vegetable in cooking most of the time, even when you do as I have done, and turn them into jam.  If you make the jam, here is what you can use it for:
  • Tomato Jam & Mozzarella sandwiches on Ciabatta - grill them for a bonus melty effect
  • Tomato Jam & Cheddar on Archipelago bread with fresh lettuce and basil leaves
  • Savory crepes with goat cheese, tomato jam and rucola
  • Served along side grilled or pan-fried fish - we used perch/ahven
  • With scrambled eggs or an omelette
  • With grilled chicken as a sauce
  • Grilled chicken & tomato jam sandwich
The great thing about these two recipes is that not only do they use up the fruits and vegetables in season - you get to play with the herbs in your garden as well.  

You'll probably come up with even more ideas - let me know what you do with the rhubarb compote and the tomato jam in the comments below.   Enjoy!

Rosemary Rhubarb Compote
This compote is so simple to make, and freezes really well.  If you have a huge pile of rhubarb and are wondering what to do with it, this is a great way to save some of it for the winter months.  The rosemary flavor is really subtle, but a nice touch.

6 cups / 1.5 liters chopped rhubarb
1 cup / 2 dl white sugar
1 - 2" / 5cm sprig fresh rosemary

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook for 7 minutes.  Remove and discard the rosemary sprig.  Continue to boil the mixture for an additional 12-15 minutes until the rhubarb has broken down into a smooth mass and the mixture begins to thicken.  Pour into storage containers.  Freeze in a tightly concealed container or refrigerate to use in one week.

Makes 2 cups / 400ml

Tomato Basil Jam
This jam has a lovely sweet & savory flavor that is slightly unexpected and so good when combined with something salty like a strong cheese or grilled meat or fish.

700 g or roughly 2 lbs mixed tomatoes, chopped - I used golden cherry and red beefsteak tomatoes
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup mixed, julienned basil leaves (I used Thai, Genovese & Lemon basils)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and boil for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Continue to boil, but stir constantly as the mixture will stick, for another 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and, using a immersion blender or a stand blender, puree the mixture until mostly smooth (you'll still have the seeds floating around, and that's no problem).  Transfer the mixture to a glass jar and refrigerate for up to one month.  

Makes 1.5 cups / 300ml

Tomato Jam & Cheddar on Archipelago bread with fresh lettuce and basil leaves


  1. That dish looks absolutely delicious. The major difference between fruits and vegetables is, veggies can be cooked with spices and chillies and fruits cant be lol. AT least thats how I remember the difference.

  2. That dish is making my mouth water. I am planning to try this on friday. If it works it, this is going to be my special dish for saturdays family function.

  3. That was very informative. Thank you very much for the share. Please update now and then.

  4. Can one process this in jars, canning it instead of freezing?

    1. Hi Suzanne, Yes it can (I'm guessing you are referring to the Rhubarb Compote). Pour it into jars with 1/2" of head space, wipe the tops of the jars and close with the lid & ring as you normally would. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath; remove; let cool completely and it will store for up to one year.

  5. Can the tomato basil jam be canned in hot water bath?

    1. Hi Anon - unfortunately no; there isn't enough sugar or vinegar to make it safe for hot water bath canning. You may, however, freeze it with good results.