RECIPE INGREDIENT: Garden Rhubarb
Tried and tested seasonal ingredient notes from our country cookery school kitchen garden. As well as hacks and get ahead tips for EVERY cook who loves to be in the garden.
Thankfully back in favour, this versatile ingredient can be used in countless recipes, sweet or savoury. You’ll find the plant hidden in the corner of allotments where it is recognised as a vegetable. But, in many a kitchen the stems, more usually known as sticks, will be prepared like fruit. Take care with the toxic leaves. These contain oxalic acid, so not to be eaten, but will break down quickly on the compost heap.
Spring Late March to Early July
Where to Grow
Partial shade or full sun with well-composted & moist soil
Rheum rhabarbarum Vegetable – Herbaceous Perennial
How to grow:
At the beginning of spring, barter for a piece of root (rhizome) with another gardener who has a well- established plant. Or, buy a rooted plant from your favourite nursery or online. Plant in a moist, well composted corner of your plot, allowing for plenty of growing room. Divide every two or three years. Stop harvesting the stems from late July. This will help the plant flourish during the summer. It will then return in good condition, for the following season. Garden rhubarb can also be forced to exclude the light and promote early growth. Use a large terracotta pot or dustbin to cover the crown. Rest the plant every couple of years, else it will become exhausted and slow to recover.
How to pick & prepare:
Select the largest stems which can be pulled and twisted from the crowns. Trim the brown parts from the stalks and compost along with the leaves. Recommended varieties: Victoria & Hawke’s Champagne
Remove only the brown tips of the stalk. Wipe clean and chop as needed.
Did you know that the white parts of rhubarb will contain the most fructose? Including these in your recipe will make it naturally sweeter.
How to cook:
Aside from serving with custard, rhubarb is a versatile ingredient for sweet and savoury dishes. A valuable addition to the kitchen larder during the early spring ‘hungry gap’.
Savoury recipes: chutney to partner a mature cheddar, quick pickle (see recipe below) to accompany slow cooked pork and a sauce to serve alongside oily fish such as mackerel or with roast lamb
Custards and creams, ginger, cardamom, orange, rose, angelica and raspberries
Create a savoury sauce or ketchup as a great foil for savoury, fat rich meats and fish such as pork, lamb or mackerel.
Combine with strawberries for jam making to increase yield.
Poach with angelica stem to reduce tartness.
Kitchen Hacks & Tips
Fill a sterilised 2 litre Kilner jar with approx. 500 g chopped rhubarb and 250 g granulated cane sugar. Fill with vodka to cover the fruit and seal down tightly. Shake the jar to help dissolve the sugar and then remember to shake the jar for the first week or so. Leave in a cool dark place for a couple of months and then strain. Pour into a bottle and chill to serve.
Quick Rhubarb Pickle
In a bowl measure 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar with 2 tablespoons of honey. Mix with a teaspoon of pickling spices, a whole dried chilli or star anise and a pinch of allspice. Shred a rhubarb stalk with a vegetable peeler. Add these to the bowl along with a 2 cm piece of grated, fresh ginger root. Transfer to a sterilised kilner jar and steep for two days in a cool larder or fridge. Serve with smoked mackerel salad or slow cooked pork belly.
To serve alongside homemade granola and ricotta for breakfast or with baked custard for tea.
Either poach gently with syrup in a pan over low heat. Or, fill a single layer of chopped rhubarb in a ceramic dish to ‘roast’ with the juice and zest of an orange and a tablespoon of light soft brown sugar. Add either fresh grated root ginger, a pinch of ground ginger, a tablespoon of chopped candied stem ginger OR a teaspoon of rosewater. Cook in the oven at 160 C or gas mark 3 or AGA baking oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the stems are tender but have kept their shape.
Prepare rhubarb compote, then liquidise to make a puree. Combine equal amounts of fruit with lightly whipped cream (or half cream and half custard). Sweeten with icing sugar to taste, pour into glasses and chill for a couple of hours before serving.