|Our allotment rhubarb patch in April 2011, showing a rhubarb flower.|
Our allotment is full of the stuff, and it will be ready any day now; forced rhubarb has been creeping into the shops from Yorkshire (the rhubarb-growing centre of England) since January and those thick, pink and green stems which end in large, dramatically-crinkled leaves will no doubt be the pride of many a country produce show come early Summer- but what can we do with rhubarb, apart from crumbles, jam and compote with custard? Is it a fruit or is it a vegetable? And is it even worth eating this tart, oxalic acid-rich stem anyway? We have the answers here:
Rhubarb is a plant which originated in the cooler climes of China and Russia, cultivation subsequently spreading through Northern Europe and into Greece, Turkey and the Levant. Now it is also grown in North America. Only the stalks are edible, the leaves being too high in oxalic acid, which is toxic and can also cause kidney stones. (In fact, rhubarb stems picked in cold weather can also be too high in oxalic acid, so it’s not advisable to eat those either.) Rhubarb is technically a vegetable as the edible part is the stem, but is usually classified as a fruit since it is used like fruit.
In terms of medicinal use, rhubarb has laxative effects and it was for its therapeutic value that rhubarb was originally grown. It was not until sugar became more commonly available in the 17th century that people in Europe began cooking with rhubarb.
Rhubarb pairs well with orange and ginger; they detract from its acidity and add warmth. Here are some of our rhubarb recipes, both sweet and savoury:
A spicy condiment not for the faint-hearted!
Delicious dairy free icecream
A Summer teatime treat