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Celebrating Rhubarb: The Vegetable That Started It All!

September 20, 2021

If it weren’t for rhubarb, Bar Keepers Friend wouldn’t exist. It’s how the power of oxalic acid was discovered, which is the primary ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend Powdered Cleanser. We’d like to take a moment to celebrate rhubarb with a mini-BKF history lesson, as well as a brand new never-seen-before rhubarb pie recipe.

The Bar Keepers Friend Rhubarb Connection 

Nearly 140 years ago, Bar Keepers Friend was discovered by chemist and entrepreneur, George William Hoffman – completely by accident! The story goes that when George was cooking rhubarb, he noticed how clean and shiny his pot suddenly was. Always the chemist, he had to learn how this was possible. He concluded it was the oxalic acid found naturally in rhubarb.

“In 1883, George William Hoffman, an Indianapolis chemist, and owner of the George William Hoffman Company used a powder he concocted to clean rhubarb from a metal pan. He later sold the new cleaning powder to bars in Indianapolis, and it was dubbed “Bar-Keepers Friend.” Before he invented Bar-Keepers’ Friend (now simply called “Bar Keepers Friend”), Hoffman had already established himself in the Indianapolis marketplace as a purveyor of metal polishes, cream cosmetic lotion, hog and poultry remedies, horse and cattle powders, and insect powders.” — Historic

Bar Keepers Friend Is Acidic. Not Alkaline.

George discovered that since the oxalic acid was acidic, rather than alkaline as most cleaners were and are, it was more effective in cleaning rust, tarnish, oxidation, mineral scale, hard water, and lime deposits than most other cleaning products. The oxalic acid works at a molecular level to lift stains and remove tarnish & oxidation films. What George didn’t know at the time was that since his new product didn’t contain bleach, so the end product was biodegradable and safe for the environment.

A Rhubarb Pie Recipe Like You’ve Never Seen

RhubarbA few years ago, friends invited me to a Pie Day party. If you’re unfamiliar with Pie Day, it’s held every March 14th in celebration of math, in particular Pi (Greek letter “π”), which in mathematics, represents a constant, such as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is 3.14. Hence Pie Day 3/14.

I had canned Jalapenos from my garden and frozen rhubarb from my perennial plant. Yes, you can freeze rhubarb. Rinse it, pat it dry, cut in one- or two-inch pieces, spread it out on a baking sheet, and freeze for a couple of hours. Just be sure the pieces aren’t touching. After they’re frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag and keep them for a year or longer.

I decided to make a pie from my garden leftovers. Yep, I made jalapeno & rhubarb pie! I chopped up two jalapenos and one cup of rhubarb. (The peppers had previously had the seeds removed.) Next, I placed them in the blender and liquefied them. I had about one cup. My next step was to make a jalapeno rhubarb custard.


  • 1 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • A cup (or so) of the blended Jalapeno/rhubarb mix
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • A tiny dash of salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup (131g) Splenda or sugar (I used Splenda)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

7 Steps 

  1. Mix the milk, cream, salt, and the Jalapeno/Rhubarb blend in a saucepan. Heat over medium until tiny bubbles show on the edge and steam bubbles to the top.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and Splenda in a separate bowl. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture over the egg mixture, constantly stirring as you pour. Next, run the custard through a sieve to catch any bits of cooked egg. Finally, add the vanilla extract.
  3. Pour the mixture into a cooled crust. I didn’t make a crust; I bought it at the grocery store. Sprinkle the nutmeg on the top.
  4. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Wrap the edges of the crust with a thin piece of aluminum foil to avoid burning.
  6. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes until the custard looks set on the edges.
  7. Remove, let it cool, and then take it to the Pie Day Party.

Here’s the thing about Rhubarb & Jalapeno Pie  

The pie came out better than I had hoped. It set up great, cut nicely, and held together well. What I found was that people absolutely loved it or venomously hated it. There was no in-between. The people at the party who enjoyed spicy foods and appreciated diverse tastes (sweet, sour, and spicy) loved it. They couldn’t get enough. However, if the individual’s idea of pie was sweet, sweet, and sweeter – they hated it. So, before you attempt this recipe, beware that it’s not for the faint of heart. And before you ask, yes, I sat a small placard next to the pie with the ingredients. A few friends read my notes and then shook their heads “no.”

Rhubarb Rocks!

I still have my rhubarb plant and play with different recipes every year. I also have Bar Keepers Friend under my sink. You know, just in case I burn my pie and pie pan. If you try the recipe, please let us know!

About the Author

Randy Clark - Headshot

Randy Clark is a speaker, coach, and author. He publishes a weekly blog at Randy Clark Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He’s a beer geek and on weekends (after COVID-19) he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under the Radar. He’s the proud father of two educators; he has four amazing grandchildren and a wife who dedicates her time to helping others. Randy is the author of the Amazon bestseller The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management.






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