Vegetable of the Month June 2016: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is known for its edible red stems and toxic large green leaves. The stem contains high levels of calcium-more than the equivalent quantity in milk! Rhubarb stalks are also high in fibre which is thought to aid digestion as well as vitamin A, B & K.

Vegetable Origins & Varieties  

Rhubarb: Rheum Rhaponticum

Although to many people rhubarb may seem a curiously British vegetable (but which is used as a fruit in the kitchen) in fact the Chinese have been using it medically for 5,000 years. The rather strange names comes from Rha, ancient Scythian name of the River Volga + barbaron, neuter of barbaros "foreign" as it grew freely along the banks of the river. 

Originally grown in China and Tibet as a medicine, it came into ancient Europe by way of Russia along the Silk Road where itsroots are used to cure constipation. Rhubarb contains anthraquinones that can have dramatic laxative properties.

After a period of near oblivion it was taken up again in the early 1800s but this time itsstalks, forced and blanched, are used as a fruit. 

There are many standard varieties like Timperley Early and Hawke’s Champagne (which fizzes when cooked) but rhubarb also flowers freely so can be grown from seed. 

Growing tips & Harvesting

Here at the Skip garden, as you do need room for the large leaves to spread, we only grow one rhubarb plant which you can find in the Broadgate Beds. 

We feed it with humus from our Ridan composter over the winter and make sure it’s well watered during the summer. Always ‘pull’ the leaf stalk away – never cut them.

NOTE: The leaves and green stalks can be poisonous to humans if eaten in quantity but contrary to popular belief can be composted successfully. 

Storing & Preparation

Rhubarb wilts quickly after harvesting but will last a few days in the fridge, maybe more with the leaves left on.

With later crop rhubarb the stringy outer fibres should be removed, it can then be boiled/poached for 8-10 minutes or roasted for 15-20 minutes.

My favourite Recipes

Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

500 g pink rhubarb, trimmed weight

500 g jam sugar

zest and juice 1⁄2 lemon

3 cm piece ginger, peeled

Wash the rhubarb under cold running water and slice into 2 cm pieces.Tip into a large ceramic or plastic bowl and add the jam sugar, lemon zest and juice. Finely grate the peeled ginger directly over the rhubarb.

Stir the mixture thoroughly, cover loosely with cling film and leave to one side for about 2 hrs to allow the sugar to dissolve into the rhubarb juices. You may need to stir the mixture occasionally to encourage this process along.

Pop a few saucers in the freezer. Scoop the fruit and all the sugary juices into a preserving pan and set over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved, and bring to the boil. Continue to cook at a fairly swift pace until the rhubarb is really tender into a preserving pan and set over a medium heat and the conserve has reached setting point this should take about 10-15 mins.

To test for a set, drop 1⁄2 tsp of the jam onto a cold saucer, leave it for 30 secs, then gently push it with the tip of your finger. If not, continue to cook for a further couple of minutes and test again.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave to one side for 2-3 mins before pouring into sterilised jars. 

Seal immediately and label with the date once completely cold.

Bring a jar to a friend’s house and enjoy on a slice of fresh soda bread!

Rhubarb & Custard Tart

1 rhubarb, roasted 

Shortcrust pastry 

142ml double cream

150ml milk

1 vanilla pod

85g caster sugar

3 eggs

Roast the rhubarb & allow to cool. Roll out the pastry, place in a tart case & blind bake by placing baking paper with baking beads on top, at 190 degrees C for about 20 minutes. Remove the baking beads and bake for a further 5 minutes or until brown-a little more than you usually would. 

For the custard bring to the boil the cream, milk & vanilla. Beat the egg & sugar separately & then whisk together. Strain through a sieve. Place the rhubarb in the tart case & pour over the custard. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool.

Final words

Rhubarb goes very well with apple & strawberry, in savoury pickles, as well as with custard & ginger! It also freezes well so can be enjoyed all year round!