February, the month which whispers on the breeze that Spring is on it’s way, brings us the first season’s Rhubarb. Rhubarb – don’t you just love the sound of the word? Ok, so it looks kind of weird but get past that and have a go at saying “Rhubarb” as if it was a lover’s name. Gently roll your tongue over the ‘r’, now pout your lips over the ‘oo’ and finally slowly open your mouth to savour the ‘barb’. Suddenly, by saying Rhubarb in this way, it has been transported from ordinary and run of the mill into an exotic vegetable.
Vegetable? Did I just call this ‘fruit’ a vegetable?
The Rhubarb Vegetable/Fruit Debate – how many of you, like me, thought Rhubarb was a fruit? We use it in puddings and desserts don’t we, therefore it must be a fruit, surely? But no. Rhubarb is a vegetable. It belongs to the Knotweed family along with Sorrel and Dock. According to the description given in Science Alert, a vegetable is anything that is the root, stem or leaf of a plant so Rhubarb is a vegetable! In fact Rhubarb is a very interesting vegetable. Did you know that if planted in perfect growing conditions, it can live up to 20 years! There are also some health benefits to incorporating it into your diet – for instance 100g will provide 24% of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of Vitamin K, 13% RDA of Vitamin C, 8.5% RDA of Manganese and Calcium and 6% RDA of Potassium as well as a host of other RDA’s of other minerals and vitamins.
Forced Early vs Maincrop – do you have a favourite? Is there a difference? Generally the 2 crops are interchangeable in recipes, although the maincrop (usually ready around early May onwards) may require extra sugar as it has a tendency to be slightly more tart.
I find the early Rhubarb crops slightly sweeter with a hint of floral aromas and flavour which are perfect for making into a compote and serving with creamy yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. My favourite compote is one taken from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall @rivercottage:
Rhubarb Compote Serves 4:
500g Rhubarb, cut into 5cm pieces
50g caster sugar
½-2 tsp rosewater
Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 3. Put the Rhubarb in an oven dish with just the water that clings to it after washing, and toss with the sugar. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until tender. Leave to cool completely, then gently stir in the rosewater, starting with just half a teaspoon, adding a little more at a time and tasting between each addition, until you have the depth of flavour that suits you.
If rosewater isn’t for you then you could change this for orange water (or grated rind) or vanilla essence or stem ginger. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shows the compote being served with homemade shortbread (see www.rivercottage.net › Recipes). I like to add some of our Rhubarb and Ginger Jam to the compote too just for an extra bit of zing. I just love the cool silkiness of thick Greek yoghurt encasing my mouth in it’s soft creaminess before the zing of the rhubarb explodes on my tastebuds!
- Storing: Rhubarb wilts quite quickly – store it in the fridge and eat within a couple of days. If possible, keep the leaves on until you’re ready to eat it, as they’ll help keep it fresh. Raw and cooked Rhubarb freezes well.
- Preparation: Wash and trim both ends of the stalks, and discard the poisonous leaves. Rhubarb, in particular the maincrop variety, is very tart and requires considerable sweetening..
- Cooking: As with other relatively acidic foods it is recommended that Rhubarb is not cooked using aluminium pots