Friday, 18 January 2013

Rhubarb - I have had this year's first pickings!

...... and let me just tell you how delicious the lovely pink stems of this ancient plant are. Palest pink forced rhurbarb -just the best!  Chopped into chunks and stewed with a couple of tablespoons of water and a little sugar, just until they are soft, and served still slightly warm with a dollop of plain yoghurt, topped off with a little sprinkle of demerara sugar is our preference.  But but you can put it in a pie, under a crumble, make it into ice-cream or sorbet, replace apples with it in a cake, put it into muffins.  It's the thick stem of a plant, but just treat it as fruit. 

Map of the Rhubard TriangleThe Rhubarb Triangle is an area of West Yorkshire farms bordered by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. The forcing  technique was developed in the 1870s and the growers guarded the secret of their sheds jealously when, in their heyday, they produced 90% of the world's winter rhubarb.  The workers pick rhubarb by candlelight (you think I am joking, right?) and in the nursery sheds the silence is so complete they say you can actually hear the rhubarb growing and the air is filled with the sounds of buds opening and developing into stalks.

It was first used as medicine - the first written record of it's use was recorded four thousand years ago!  But it didn't arrive in Britain until the 13th century, when it was four times more expensive than opium.    Gradually it started to be used for food and has been around ever since, going into decline after WW2 when other fruit from far flung lands arrived and was deemed far more exciting, everyone having consumed far too much of the stuff during the war when there was little else.

But it's time has come again, and it's lovely sharp flavour is finding favour..... 90% goes straight to supermarkets.  If you haven't ever tasted it, give it a go - it's like nothing else, especially in cold days of winter.

PS - don't eat the leaves ever, they contain the poison oxalic acid.