Growing : Rhubarb is incredibly easy to grow, though you do need space; allotment friends grow it in large dustbins. It needs deep, well-drained, fertile soil, preferably in sunshine, and will thrive in cool climates with summer rainfall (it is a native of Siberia).It hates being waterlogged. Plant in early Spring and do not harvest in the first year until it gets established. It benefits from a good mulch/manure and division every 3 or 4 years and should go on for many years.
Forcing is a process whereby light is excluded, preventing photosynthesis, and reduces the natural bitterness of a plant. It is widely used with early rhubarb, famously in the “Rhubarb Triangle” in West Yorkshire, which I visited some years ago to see rhubarb being nurtured in dark sheds and harvested by candlelight, during the month of March. Smart kitchen gardens force their rhubarb under terracotta forcing jars but a weighted dustbin will do just as well; ‘Timperly Early’ is recommended for forcing. But forcing is by no means necessary; without it, rhubarb is harvested from late March onwards. Harvest the stems by pulling rather than cutting.Nutrition : Firstly do not eat the green leaves (which are poisonous). Rhubarb contains dietary fibre, anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, calcium, potassium and magnesium, and, interestingly, good quantities of Vitamin K .. useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Other potential health benefits : rhubarb is a natural laxative, can lower cholesterol and some research shows that baking it in the oven may increase the polyphenols, a cancer preventative.
Eating : Growing up, rhubarb was always stewed with copious amounts of sugar and served with cream or added to crumbles.
I am still a great fan of rhubarb crumble but I like to bake the rhubarb in the oven first for about 10 minutes with a little caster sugar. I then add a few shavings of ginger (use powdered if you don’t have fresh) and top with the crumble mixture and pop back in the oven for 30 minutes.
To add more sweetness to the rhubarb, I sometimes cook it with apples or some orange rind. I have yet to try Ina Garten’s recipe for combining it with strawberries.
On #allotmenthour last night on Twitter (@JardinDesign if you use Twitter) other recommendations were cooking it with sweet cicely or rhubarb custard cake.
Rhubarb and ginger fool
Ginger is a natural partner for rhubarb and I like to glam it up with this recipe for rhubarb fool. If you don’t have fresh ginger, try crushing some gingernut biscuits and swirling them through the fool for added crunch.
100g Greek yogurt
300g double cream
Teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
- Put the chopped rhubarb in a pan with the sugar and ginger, cover and cook on a low heat until tender. Drain, reserving the juice, and allow to cool.
- Whip the cream. Stir in the yogurt, then fold in the cooled rhubarb.
- Serve in glasses, pour over a little of the reserved rhubarb liquid and decorate with mint leaves or edible flowers.