Fresh and tangy rhubarb

Deep pink rhubarb fills desserts and cakes with the taste of spring

Landscape (UK) - - Contents -

Sprouting in pro­fuse bou­quets of pad­dle-shaped leaves, rhubarb’s dis­tinc­tive colour of­ten starts as a rich scar­let at the base. De­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety and how it is grown, it can flush a rosy pink the en­tire length of the stalk or ta­per to a pale green. Re­gard­less of colour, its long, fleshy stalks have a crisp bite and tart taste. Gar­den rhubarb, Rheum rhabar­barum, is of­ten pre­pared for sweet dishes. It is, how­ever, a veg­etable from the Polyg­o­naceae fam­ily, which in­cludes sor­rel. Other va­ri­eties, Rheum x hy­bridum, have also been cul­ti­vated for taste, colour and grow­ing con­di­tions.

Pick­ing and stor­ing

Rhubarb grows well in bright sun­shine, cold tem­per­a­tures and well-drained soil. In its first year, it is best left to be­come es­tab­lished and de­velop a ro­bust root sys­tem. In its se­cond year, two stalks can be picked at a time and in later years up to four, al­ways leav­ing a healthy crop of at least five stems. It is ready to pick when the leaf stalks are ap­prox­i­mately 12in (30cm) long and the leaves have fully un­furled. A few of the larger stems are cho­sen and pulled from the base with a firm tug and slight twist. Cut­ting with a knife is not rec­om­mended as it does not pro­voke the same vig­or­ous re­growth. The leaves con­tain ox­alic acid, which is poi­sonous if in­gested, but they can be cut off and safely left to rot in the com­post. If the rhubarb is not to be used im­me­di­ately, keep­ing the leaves on helps main­tain fresh­ness. Placed whole in a plas­tic bag to re­tain mois­ture, it will keep for three to five days in the fridge. Cut into 1in (2.5cm) pieces and frozen, it can last up to a year.

Cook­ing prepa­ra­tion

Ma­ture rhubarb stems can de­velop a stringy outer layer. This will mainly dis­in­te­grate while cook­ing, but can be stripped away with a knife. The rhubarb then sim­ply needs to be washed, the base chopped off and the rest of the stalk cut into chunks. It is al­most al­ways pre­pared with plenty of su­gar, to coun­ter­act its nat­u­ral sharp­ness. Raw stalks of rhubarb dipped in su­gar were once pop­u­lar as a child­hood treat. Now, it is most of­ten stewed as a sauce or top­ping or used as a fill­ing for crum­bles and pie.

Health ben­e­fits

Rhubarb has been used in herbal medicine for cen­turies, for its pos­i­tive ef­fects on the di­ges­tive sys­tem. It is rich in cal­cium and vi­ta­min K, both of which are im­por­tant for strong bones. Vi­ta­min K is also nec­es­sary for blood clot­ting, help­ing wounds to heal prop­erly. In ad­di­tion, rhubarb is a good source of vi­ta­min C, potas­sium and di­etary fi­bre.

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