Pure pieplant per­fec­tion

It may not ac­tu­ally be a fruit, but there’s much to en­joy about rhubarb, says MARY KEMP

EDP Norfolk - - Promotion - Mary Kemp

IT’S THE end of the forced rhubarb sea­son and it won’t be long now be­fore it will be picked in fields and gar­dens. Rhubarb is the vegetable stalk of a large peren­nial herb with an un­canny abil­ity to im­per­son­ate fresh fruit in the mid­dle of win­ter.

It’s an in­gre­di­ent that you ei­ther love or hate. For some it brings back un­pleas­ant me­mories of school din­ners; over-stewed, topped with a heavy crum­ble mix and served with lumpy cus­tard, never cooked with enough sugar in it.

I have to say I grew up lov­ing it; luck­ily I must have been spared those dis­as­trous school pud­dings. I just re­mem­ber pick­ing it from the vegetable gar­den at home as it grew through old up­side-down metal bushels that had lost their bot­toms, forc­ing the plants to grow tall as well as pro­tect­ing them from the frosts.

Then we had the plea­sure of eat­ing it, stir­ring proper cus­tard through a bowl of the sim­ply-stewed fruit. But, like many other ‘fruits’ we pre­sume are very Bri­tish, rhubarb is not at all.

We only started to re­ally cook with it in the 18th cen­tury and the wild plant, closely re­lated to wild dock and sor­rel, ac­tu­ally orig­i­nates from Siberia. For thou­sands of years it was known for its medic­i­nal ben­e­fits.

Used by the Greeks and the Ro­mans as dried roots, it was Marco Polo who was thought to have brought it to Europe as a type of medicine. It was recorded in Bri­tain by the 16th cen­tury, purely in a medic­i­nal con­text, as be­ing good for stom­ach, colon and liver com­plaints as well as a lax­a­tive. (We now know there are a group of sub­stances found in the root of rhubarb that have purga­tive pow­ers.)

It only seems in re­cent years there has been a real rhubarb re­vival; for a long while it had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a mod­est, homely in­gre­di­ent, of­ten known as the ‘pieplant’, but it’s so much more that! Here are two of my favourite recipes to en­joy and cel­e­brate this won­der­ful in­gre­di­ent.Š

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