My love affair with rhubarb is well documented. I blame my father, a fully paid up rhubarb fanatic. Perhaps it’s hereditary. Or perhaps it’s the years of low level habit forming routine: regular rhubarb crumbles, a weekly bag of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, that cat and dog cartoon of the same name being an unmissable fixture in my TV viewing… Either way, addiction has passed from father to daughter as you can see from past posts here and here. Oh and here.
But nothing beats forced rhubarb – the most anticipated season of all for the rhubarb connoisseur. Coaxed into being amidst the dark Yorkshire winter, it has an elusively short season (late Jan to March), a very peculiar growing method (see below) and a protectively small growing area (the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle). It’s the most difficult and most delicious of all veg – the blue crystal meths of the vegetable world.
And I’ve got some. It’s available from farmshops at this time of year and online (mine came from Natoora). And if you have a rhubarb plant in your patch you can grow your own. After a good winter mulching, cover the plant with a black bucket in mid-December. In around 6-8 weeks you’ll have rhubarb! It really exhausts the plant so only attempt it with strong, well established plants and only do it every other year.
Forced rhubarb is quite a different beast from regular rhubarb. Because all the plant’s energy is sent to the stems so they can grow long in search of light, they are thin, sweet and very very pink. The leaves in contrast, are shrivelled and malformed making the whole package appear quite ghoulish. Still the leaves are toxic in all rhubarb, so no loss there.
But the colour is the primary joy of forced rhubarb. Main crop rhubarb is a bit green, but forced is unapologetically pink. And being a sucker for rosy pink, I’ve focused on dishes that make the most of this gorgeous display:
Rhubarb and Ginger Fizzy Pop
- 2 stems rhubarb
- 100g caster sugar
- 100 ml water
- 200ml ginger ale
- A good few shakes of Angostura bitters
Dissolve the sugar in the water over a gentle heat whilst you chop the rhubarb. Add the rhubarb and simmer for 10 minutes until the rhubarb has broken down. Line a sieve with a piece of muslin and pour the mixture through the muslin, catching the clear juices in a bowl below. This is your rhubarb cordial and it will be bright pink.
You can use this syrup to make many cocktails – a slug in the bottom of a glass of prosecco does very nicely – and it will keep in a jar in the fridge indefinitely. However, I’m feeling like a grown up but alcohol-free drink is in order so I’ve mixed around 100ml of the syrup with 200ml ginger ale, a dash of Angostura bitters and a few ice cubes.
Rhubarb and Custard Ripple Ice Cream
I simply adore a sweet vanilla custard ice-cream with a ripple of something zingy, and preferably pink, through it. The combination of sweet and sour is a favourite of mine, I did it with mulberries in September – see here – and I’m doing it again now. Simply follow the mulberry instructions but replace the mulberry puree with rhubarb puree.
To make the puree just simmer 2 stalks of rhubarb in a pan with a little water until very soft. Whizz in a blender until smooth to make a face-scrunchingly sour, baby pink puree.
Pork and Pickled Rhubarb
- 2 stems rhubarb
- 75ml caster sugar
- 75ml cider vinegar
- 1 pork rack chop
- sunflower oil
- knob of butter
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over a low heat then add the chopped rhubarb (go small with the chopping for a more refined look). Leave to mingle for a few minutes while you cook the pork.
Drizzle a little sunflower oil into an oven-proof frying pan (no melty handles please!) on a medium heat then add the butter. Season the pork on both sides then, when the butter is foaming hot, add the pork to the pan and brown it on both sides for a couple of minutes.
Pop the whole pan into the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes or until the meat is just cooked through and the juices run clear.
Serve the pork with the drained rhubarb pickle on top and a green salad or spinach on the side.
(Thank you to Natoora for sending me such beautiful rhubarb to play with.)