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In Season: unravelling the mysteries of rhubarb

Rhubarb is a wonderfully misunderstood ingredient.

Whatever Branston pickle does, rhubarb does it better
Whatever Branston pickle does, rhubarb does it better

It’s just in season but the mystery to everyone the world over is that no-one knows what to do with it!

It’s got a big pink stalk that people love to eat but, for some reason, people only tend to use it in crumbles.

What you might not know though is that whatever Branston pickle does, rhubarb does better. Take the thought that it must be served as part of a crumble out of your mind and think of it more as a conserve.

I was in Marakesh last week and it was on the menu there. That inspired me to put it on our menu and, at the moment, we’ve got it in a dessert served with strawberry milk and next week we’ll be serving it with chicken, chilli and figs.

Rhubarb can take a lot of sugar and vinegar and it works really well with chillies, figs or in a curry. It’s also fantastic in a pilaf with prawns and pineapple.

Whether you peel it or not is up to you but the best thing to do with it raw is to get a big bag of sugar, stick it in there and eat it.

You can also bake it whole, portion it up and dip it into things or you can go traditional and use it in a crumble or turn it into a jam.

It originated in Asia and copes well in these wussy climates. However, it is to the people of Yorkshire and Lancashire what haggis is to the Scots and if you go there you can hear it crunching in the night.

It is something that the whole of the UK cherishes it and, if you ask me, it is almost too nice to save for its season.

It’s a mystery that endures but it should be embraced. You can and should go beyond using it in a crumble, although if you do this you have got to go big as you can’t beat a rhubarb crumble and custard.

However, if all else fails, get yourself a bag of sugar and rhubarb and enjoy yourself.

 

Rhubarb makes a fantastic filling for crumbles and pies but did you know that it is a vegetable, not a fruit?

Here are 10 more fascinating facts that you might not know about rhubarb.

1 Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid and are toxic. However, you would have to eat about 5kg of them to receive a lethal dose.

2 You can tell how sweet a rhubarb will be by its stalk. The redder the stalk is, the sweeter the rhubarb will taste.

3 Rhubarb can be used as a laxative.

4 The word rhubarb comes from the Latin thababarum, meaning ‘root of the barbarians’. The Romans labelled people who ate rhubarb as barbarians.

5 The earliest records of rhubarb date back to China in 2700BC where it was used for medicinal purposes.

6 Benjamin Franklin is credited as being one of the first people to send rhubarb seeds to the American colonies.

7 One cup of rhubarb contains as much calcium as a glass of milk and around 5g of fibre.

8 The Russians took rhubarb to Alaska in the 1800s because they thought it would help protect people from scurvy.

9 It became popular in the 17th century when cheap sugar became available.

10 Its reputation for possessing medicinal qualities meant that rhubarb became very desirable. In the mid 1500s it was more expensive to buy in France than cinnamon and, by the mid 1600s, it was double the price of opium in England.

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