Rhubarb is a national hero of a fruit (although it’s actually a stalk vegetable). When it first pops up on menus and its shockingly colourful stalks are spotted at farmers markets, you know the season has changed. Spring has arrived. To celebrate the happy news and arrival of beautiful British ‘barb, here are few ways you can enjoy in its tartness beyond custard and crumbles.
Available from January to late March/early April, forced rhubarb is grown in the dark in the wonderfully named ‘rhubarb triangle’, the area around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. They can grow up to 5cm a day in the controlled light and soil conditions that give forced rhubarb its glorious bright pink hue, white flesh and delicate, sharp flavour. And if you’re anything like Nigel Slater when he was a kid, you’ll love slicing off a thumb of the pink-stuff and casually dipping it into brown sugar for a quick tangy hit – a bit like a stripped-back sherbet dip.
Farmdrop’s forced rhubarb is cultivated by fifth generation farmers E. Oldroyd & Sons at their farm in Yorkshire and is distributed by Mash Purveyors – London’s 150 year-old family run suppliers the finest of fruit and vegetables. Grown in complete darkness and cultivated by candlelight, “to avoid photosynthesis turning them green and tough (rhubarb grown outdoors in the summer has a more acidic and harsh flavour)”, says farmer and family member Janet Oldroyd whose father used to cultivate the land, there’s tales of ‘hearing’ the creaks and crackles of its stalks moving up the soil.
Having received the top award with European Food Status of a Product of Designated Origin (PDO), British rhubarb is recognised by chefs and has garnered international repute: “our rhubarb tastes better and is grown in this specific way to give it its quality and flavour. The world knows the best rhubarb comes from this area” Janet explains.
So, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got your hands on some of the world’s best ‘barb, here’s a few tips and tricks to get you scoring gold stars in the kitchen too.
Photography by Hannah Briggs of rhubarb at E. Oldroyd and Sons.
Delightfully easy, this is great if you’re short on time, or just can’t wait get stuck into it’s bright stalks. Slice rhubarb into chunky batons and place in a pan with equal parts sugar and water, lemon juice and zest. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and poach for 5 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for a cool take on rhubarb and custard. Try your hand at our Rhubarb & Black Pepper Compote for a spicy twist.
Throw together the usual pickle suspects sugar, cider vinegar, salt, ginger, peppercorns, chillies and bay leaves, boil up and pop into jars. Serve with crumbly cheese, charcuterie or oily fish such as mackerel or sardines – it’ll cut through the fat nicely. New to pickling? Try our easy and fresh-tasting rhubarb pickle that’s got a little poke too.
A great one to serve up with freshly pan fried fish, start with poaching method. Add a little fish stock, reduce for 5 minutes and push through a sieve. Reheat before serving and whisk in a generous knob of butter – this will give it good gloss. You can try this with veg stock and serve with pork.
Let the rhubarb shine in this simple, four ingredient sweet treat. Simmer gently 3 parts of rhubarb cut into chunks with 2 parts caster sugar and 1 part water with a little lemon juice until soft. Leave the mixture to cool and blitz in a blender until smooth. Use an ice cream maker to chill and then place in the tub in the freezer. Or place in a tub and stir up with a fork every hour for up to 6 hours and you’ll have a tantalising, granita-like texture. Each flavour-packed scoop will get you hooked (and forgetting about ice cream).
Perfect to enjoy after a Sunday lunch, place batons in a dish in a hot oven with shavings of orange zest and a little juice until softened but still hold their shape. Now, we know there’s more to rhubarb than crumble, but we won’t deny you a classic (we love them too)! Shake it up with crunchy nuts and fresh ginger in our Rhubarb Gingernut Crumble. Dollop baked rhubarb on french toast and pancakes, or on muesli with yoghurt.
Find out more on Mash Purveyors and their latest crop of produce on the shop.
Watch the rhubarb being harvested by candlelight at the Olroyd family farm as featured by the BBC.