Rediscovering rhubarb

If you were put off as a child by plates of over-sweetened, over-stewed rhubarb, now’s the time to rediscover it. When eaten young and fresh, rhubarb has a sweet, delicate flavour that complements a range other sweet and savoury tastes, and it’s easy to grow as well.

Rhubarb facts

* Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, the stalks of a large perennial (rheum rhababareum). The UK garden-grown rhubarb season peaks in May, June and July.

* In the USA, a court in New York declared in 1947 that since rhubarb was primarily used as a fruit it should be classified as a fruit for tax purposes, which had the effect of lowering the price as vegetables were taxed at a higher rate than fruit.

* Between the First and Second World Wars, a rhubarb boom hit the UK as the price of sugar fell. The famous ‘rhubarb triangle, sprang up in Yorkshire, where early rhubarb was cultivated in forcing sheds in an area between Morley, Rothwell and Wakefield.

* The leaves of the plant are poisonous as they contain a high level of oxalic acid.

Separate the leaves and discard them

How to choose rhubarb
* If you’re buying rhubarb rather than growing your own, look for stalks with a fresh, bright colour, which can vary between pale pink and bright scarlet. Avoid any bunches that look tired or dull. The sticks should be crisp rather than limp, and if you snap the end sap should be released.

Traditional uses for rhubarb

* Rhubarb goes with ginger, apples, custards and in tarts, pies and crumbles. It’s also a good accompaniment to fatty meats such as pork.

Rhubarb recipes

Here are two of our favourites – one sweet, and one savoury.

Fresh rhubarb should release a little sap when cut

Rhubarb and ginger cake

  • 170g (6oz) butter or margerine, softened
  • 170g (6oz) sugar
  • 170g (6oz) self raising flour
  • 3 large freerange eggs
  • 6 – 8 stalks of young rhubarb
  • 3 or 4 pieces of crystalised ginger
  • 20cm cake tin (square or round)
What to do:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease the tin, and line the base with baking parchment.
  3. Wash the rhubarb, and discard the ends and any discoloured patches. Chop into 2cm lengths. This recipe needs young rhubarb, as tougher, fibrous pieces won’t be softened by the time the cake is cooked.
  4. Finely chop the ginger into as small pieces as possible.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the flour a little at a time, and beat to a smooth batter.
  6. Add the rhubarb and ginger to the batter, beating to make sure it gets a good coating of the mixture.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, and spread it out as evenly as possible with the back of a spoon. Transfer to the over, and bake for 30 – 40 minutes until well risen and golden. Test by inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the cake; it should come out clean with no uncooked mixture sticking to it.
  8. Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack, remove the baking parchment and allow to cool slightly. Cut into squares, and serve with creme fraiche or clotted cream.

Rhubarb and feta cheese salad

Serves 4:
  • 90g (3oz) butter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 200g (7 oz) rhubarb, cut into 2cm lengths
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons port
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoon mustard
  • salad leaves
  • 200g (7oz) feta cheese
What to do:
  1. Melt the butter and sugar together in a frying pan and add the rhubarb. Cook over a low heat until tender, then add the port and orange juice. Cook for another minute or so until the liquid reduces, then set aside to cool.
  2. Mix together the oil, lemon juice and mustard. Put some salad on a plate, pour over the dressing. Put some rhubarb compote around the salad, and crumble the cheese over.

Rhubarb inspired home products

Orla Kiely rhubarb candle diffuser

Summer scents from Orla Kiely

If you don’t have the space or time to grow your own rhubarb, how about this home fragrance set from Orla Kiely. At £24, it’s guaranteed to fill your home with this fresh, summery scent. Available from Berry Red.


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