As we head into the spring, now is the time to enjoy the puckery-tart fruitiness of rhubarb; one of the first main edible crops of the year.
Although rhubarb tends to be treated as a fruit, botanically speaking its a vegetable. It’s related to dock and sorrel.
The first reference to rhubarb is in the first century AD. Before it made the jump to the table, it appears the Romans imported it from China as a cure for internal diseases.
There is a National Rhubarb Collection maintained by National Trust and Royal Horticultural Society gardeners at Clumber Park near Nottingham. They have 130 varieties! https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park/features/the-national-rhubarb-collection-at-clumber-park
In the UK, there are two crops. The first – forced rhubarb – traditionally comes from Yorkshire at the start of the year. It’s grown in the dark, giving a paler stalk and a sweet, delicate flavour. The second – main crop rhubarb – starts to arrive in fields, gardens and allotments across the UK from late March to early June. Main crop rhubarb has a much more robust flavour and structure.
Whilst you can eat rhubarb stalks raw – if you can cope with the tartness – rhubarb leaves are full of poisonous oxalic acid and should never be consumed. Straight to the compost bin with those!
After stewing for 8-10 minutes, we all know rhubarb makes a delicious ingredient in a dessert pie or crumble. It can also be puréed with cream and sugar to make a chilled rhubarb fool.
The tartness also stands up to both strong flavoured game and fatty meats such as pork and duck, so ditch the redcurrant, cranberry or apple sauces and try rhubarb salsa instead.
Check out BBC Good Food website for rhubarb recipe inspiration!
Rhubarb – alongside a huge range of Sussex vegetables, fruits, dairy and meats – are available to buy online from The Sussex Peasant.