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Rhubarb

Information about Rhubarb plus Rhubarb Recipes Collection

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April

2002

 

 

 

Rhubarb (genus Rheum) belongs to the plant family Polygonaceae and is a very old plant. Contrary to popular belief, it is classed as a vegetable,  not a fruit, being a close relative of garden Sorrel although in the western world it is still more usually used in desserts.

 

 

 

Origin and History of Rhubarb

 

Rhubarb is the plant name for the many different species (about 70) of Rheum. It originated in Asia, in particular China and Tibet, with the earliest records relating to its use dating back to 2700BC when it was mainly cultivated for medicinal purposes, in particular for its purgative qualities. Whilst it's believed that by the 1500s it was being used in Europe for its medicinal properties, one of the first records found of its culinary use in Europe dates back to 1608.  However, it was not officially recorded as a culinary plant in Europe until the mid/late 1700s and the plant used was probably a cross matching of Rheum rhaponticum, Rheum undulatum and possibly also Rheum palmatum. The Medieval Latin the name "reubarbarum" literally translates to "barbarian rhubarb".  By the early 1800s it was introduced to and widely used in the United States.

 

Cultivation of Rhubarb

 

Rhubarb is a perennial plant, i.e. a plant which returns to growth every year, getting larger each growing season. The plant produces large fleshy rhizomes with very large leaves and long, thick stalks (petioles) ranging from red tinged green to bright red and grows to a height of about 90cm/3 feet. It is the stalks which are eaten and prized by chefs. Important: Rhubarb leaves contains oxalate, which have been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested. It is therefore advisable not to eat the leaves at all.

 

It can be grown from seed, potted plants, or from root divisions that contain one or more buds and should be grown in well-drained, fertile soil that receives direct sunlight most of the day. It is best to wait 2 years before starting to harvest rhubarb but once it is established, you can pull stems each spring until the end of June. The plants do produce flowers however it's best to remove these so that the plant doesn't waste it's energies producing seed.

 

Whilst their stems are never poisonous (unlike the leaves as mentioned above),  they do get "woody" late in the season, so pick whilst still tender. It is perfectly safe to throw the leaves into a compost pile provided you allow them to totally break down when they will lose their toxicity.

 

 

Preparation and storage of Rhubarb

 

 

 

Fresh rhubarb should be trimmed of all leaf material, wrapped in clingfilm and refrigerated when it will keep for 2-3 weeks. When ready to use, prepare as per individual recipes. Fresh rhubarb can also be preserved as a jam, conserve or relish. See below for recipes.

 

To freeze, choose, firm, tender, well-coloured stalks. Wash, trim and cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces in lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, cool quickly in cold water to retain colour and flavour, drain well and pack into containers, leaving 12mm/ 1/2-inch headspace. Seal, label and freeze. Alternatively, pack cooked rhubarb as above lightly into containers and cover with cold 50-percent syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water). Freeze as above.

 

Tinned Rhubarb is a good store cupboard standby  which makes a suitable addition to sauces and desserts calling for stewed rhubarb.

 

 

Cooking with Rhubarb

 

As mentioned above,  rhubarb is more widely used in sweet dishes however below we have some  interesting savoury recipes too. It goes surprisingly well with some meats, poultry and fish and these recipes are well worth trying.

 

 

Click here for lots of Rhubarb Recipes

 

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