Rhubarb, Rhubarb ? Let?s Talk About Rhubarb

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th February 2014
The first in 2014’s monthly blogs on seasonal ingredients and their uses in some of the world’s best kitchens from food blogger and head of social media at Great British Chefs, Mecca Ibrahim. Rhubarb can be a confusing plant. Most people treat it as a fruit, but technically it’s not. It’s a vegetable with many fruit like qualities. Although in 1947 a court in New York reclassified it as a fruit just to make USA regulations and duties easier.    To start with, it wasn’t used as a kitchen ingredient at all.  About 5000 years ago in China it was used as a drug for treating constipation.  Rhubarb as a food was first recorded in this country in the 17th century and reached its peak between the two world wars. Matthew Fort notes that: “Energetic Victorians propelled rhubarb up the ingredient ladder.  Producing varieties with such splendid names as Stockbridge Cropper, Stockbridge Guardsman,  Hawkes’ Champagne, Cawood Delight, Fenton’s Special, Victoria, Prince Albert. Even a modern variety like Timperley Early has a certain Victorian resonance to it.” We also have the Victorians to thank for rhubarb’s early arrival through “forcing”.  From January and February it can be grown in the dark by artificially raising the local temperature.  In the past an upturned bucket was placed over the new shoots.  Now forcing sheds with a temperature of 55 to 65 F are used for the roots to prosper. West Yorkshire once produced 90% of the world’s forced rhubarb.  Now the Rhubarb Triangle is a nine square mile triangle between Morley, Rothwell and Wakefield.   It was originally much bigger and at its peak covered a 30 square mile area between Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield.  The importance of Yorkshire as a rhubarb grower was highlighted in February 2010 when Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme. Now rhubarb’s cheery bright pink stalks add vibrancy to dreary February days. As if to echo that celebration, forced rhubarb has been re-branded in supermarkets as “champagne rhubarb”.  You can tell forced rhubarb by its yellowish leaves.  April sees the arrival of the field grown variety, it’s less tender than forced rhubarb but some find it has a more intense flavour.   Dominic Chapman of the Royal Oak in Maidenhead uses poached rhubarb as base for his orange posset dessert. Grenadine brings out the tartness of the rhubarb, but if you fancy something sweeter, try poaching in a syrup made with raspberry cordial.  Chapman also turns to rhubarb as a bright layer to his rhubarb trifle.  A delightfully light and boozy syllabub is the ideal balance to sponge fingers soaked in green tea, sherry and lime infusion. Christoffer Hruskova takes rhubarb before it has reached its full ripeness and is still green for a refreshing rhubarb sorbet.  The sorbet works well as an amuse bouche, as a dessert by itself or as the component part of a larger dessert. Adam Stokes from Adam’s in Birmingham partners duck and rhubarb.  His sublime duck breast with rhubarb purée and walnut granola can be dished up inside an hour and looks impressive on the plate. Here the tart rhubarb is poached in a sweet liquor of vanilla and star anise.  Combined with a crunchy, savoury granola it provides a dish bursting with texture and sweet surprise. For more rhubarb dishes from some of Britain’s leading chefs, head over to Great British Chefs rhubarb recipe collection. Mecca is Head of Social Media at Great British Chefs.  At work she is known for her chocolate desserts and boundless enthusiasm for social media. She has spent the last 10 years in community management and online marketing at some of the biggest and most innovative internet businesses out there (Yahoo, Justgiving, moo.com and Joost).  She also hosts an annual food blogging competition called Nom Nom Nom.   See more of our rhubarb recipes - Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb Crumble Souffle by Rupert Rowley Vanilla Baked Alaska with Spiced Rhubarb Consomme by Marcus Eaves

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th February 2014

Rhubarb, Rhubarb ? Let?s Talk About Rhubarb