Tuesday, February 05, 2008

R is for Rhubarb

There are some vegetables that sit on the fence: rhubarb is one of them. We treat rhubarb as if it was a fruit but as we eat the stems of the plant, it is in fact a vegetable. It has a rich history in Britain. In a triangle of farmland bordered by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, rhubarb growers harvest their prize produce in sheds lit by candlelight. Cosseted in the dark warmth, the rhubarb can focus its efforts on producing long sweet stalks rather than wasting its efforts on leaves to absorb sunlight. This is ‘forced’ rhubarb and West Yorkshire used to produce 90% of the world’s winter rhubarb. The rhubarb would rumble its way down to London on a train known as the Rhubarb Express.
In a diversion from the alphabet, Freddie had his first taste of rhubarb last September when it was still growing happily indoors. Eating alphabetically has taken us on a fantastic journey but when a vegetable is in season you have to try it then and there. We travelled down to Wiltshire to stay with friends and enjoy their rhubarb. They live in a Georgian house where the cliché ‘time stands still’ is deserved. The original servants bells, painted mustard-yellow, hang in rows in the kitchen. On the floor are huge stone flags which lead into the old scullery with its vast ceramic sinks. To the left is the larder with wooden vegetable racks, mesh-fronted cupboards and meat hooks hanging down from a beam; an 18th century kitchen preserved.

Our friend Colette took Freddie through these rooms to the walled kitchen garden, bordered by apple, plum and damson trees. Left to its own devices, rhubarb produces flamboyant green and red-veined leaves, which also happen to be poisonous. Freddie helped to pick the stems and ran off to build a den with his friend Matthew. “We don’t eat enough puddings,” said Freddie as they ran off. “Can you make a rhubarb crumble?”

So I did, using a recipe from Colette’s book of family recipes.
The crumble topping is made from oats, rather than flour and helped to ensure that rhubarb scored 9 out of 10. Do you have a favourite rhubarb recipe to share? Let us know.

Rhubarb and Oat Crumble
Serves 6
75g caster sugar
Rind and juice of one large orange
1 kg rhubarb stalks

For the topping:
225g whole porridge oats
175g brown sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
175g butter

Preheat the oven to 180C. Chop the rhubarb stalks into 3cm pieces. Wash the orange and finely grate the rind. Then squeeze the juice from the oranges. Place the caster sugar, orange juice and rind with the rhubarb pieces in a pan over a medium heat, stirring for three to four minutes. Pour into an ovenproof dish.
To make the topping, melt the butter in a large pan. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon and brown sugar. Then add the porridge oats and stir so they are well-coated. Evenly spread the oat topping over the rhubarb and bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The topping should be golden brown and the rhubarb bubbling. Serve with Greek yoghurt, custard or icecream.
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  1. This sounds great!

    Kudos to Freddie for liking radicchio too as I find it too bitter. May have to give your gratin recipe a try.

  2. In the Spring the ladies at work always request my Rhubarb Cheesecake. There is just something about the marriage of the tart rhubarb and the creamy filling that is a match made in heaven :)
    Not an unusual dessert Charlotte & Freddie but very delicious :)

  3. Hi Freddie and Charlotte,

    There's a traditional Persian lamb recipe that includes rhubarb. It's in the Jane Grigson Fruit Book. Here 's a link to Sophie Grigson's version http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/515267

    My Gran used to make a batter pudding (Yorkshire Pudding) with chunks of rhubard scattered on it before it went in the oven. Eat hot with little knobs of butter and brown sugar. Yummy! Now I'm grown up I've learnt this is a 'claffoutis a la rhubarbe', but for me it will always be 'rhubub-batter-puddin' :)


  4. I love reading about you & Freddie's adventures.

  5. Anonymous2:52 AM

    Sounds good! I love how you give your kids such fun adventures along the way.

  6. That rhubarb crumble looks really good.

  7. I always laugh when I think about rhubarb. When my family first left New York City for the suburbs of New Jersey and a house with a small back yard, my dad was mowing the lawn one day and came across an incredibly large weed. He mowed it down, and a few days later it was back. Well, after weeks of this, a neighbor finally told him that we had a rhubarb plant, not a giant weed! And every time I have rhubarb, I think of that!

  8. Rhubarb - delicious. I always like to make that point about it being a veggie too. Always surprises.

    Why not try this one but have a twist of your own on it using muesli and making it into a nice breakfast dish? It is so easy.



  9. Anonymous11:07 AM

    So glad Freddie likes rhubarb. We went to Wakefield to see the rhubarb sheds, which are surrounded by huge water pipes which carry the hot water to keep the sheds warm. But the most amazing thing was seeing the stocky Yorkshiremen carrying small candles into the shed to pick the stalks. Only very small flames, because the tender, pink stalks need absolute darkness!
    Back to important things - rhubarb crumble is our top recipe for rhubarb!

  10. Anonymous1:01 PM

    I've never had rhubarb in a sweet dish (I'm not much of a pudding lover) but my dad makes a great rhubard and mince dish. He frys some beef mince with onions, garlic, celery and carrot, and then adds spices like cumin, paprika and a touch of tumeric. He then adds roughly chopped rhubarb, some beef stock, and a touch of suagr. Simmer it gently for about an hour, sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve over rice.

  11. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Hi, I love reading about this adventure. I treat rhubarb as a vegetable and cook it with onions, a wee bit of garlic and sugar or agave. I add peppers too and what ever spices/herbs that suit the main dish. I serve it as a relish or topping for meats or fish or tofu. It is especially good to put over salmon before you bake it.

  12. Here's a rhubarb recipe for you to try.

  13. Anonymous6:53 PM

    As kids we always just dunked washed rhubarb stalks into a bowl of sugar and munched away. Not exactly a recipe, but we love(d) it.

  14. Anonymous9:11 PM

    The Milliner. I think Freddie would revolt if I offered him a stick of rhubarb. The sugar though would go down a treat!
    Trig ) Thank you for this. Much appreciated!

    Anon - I love the combination of psices that you have mentioned. Clearly we need to start a treat rhubarb like a vegetable campaign.

  15. Anonymous10:18 PM

    My brother has always had a penchant for big words which lead to frequent malapropisms as a child, amongst them "self defence flour" and "false rhubarb"!

  16. Oh...rhubarb crumble is lovely, but to me rhubarb flapjack is even better.

    4 oz butter, melted with 2 oz brown sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup. Mix this with 8 oz rolled oats, and some cinnamon if you like. Spoon on top of the (sweetened) rhubarb, than cook at 180C/350F for about 30 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked and the topping brown. Serve with lashings of custard!

  17. I love a good rhubarb crumble with oatmeal topping. I made a nice rhubarb jam with apple and ginger recently, to help keep rhubarb with me throughout the year. My husband is from the rhubarb triangle, so he has us eat is as much as possible

  18. Anonymous12:12 AM

    Great looking crumble! I love oats in the topping.

  19. I just found your blog. What a fantastic idea! I love the idea of getting to try so many new things and exposing your family to eat.

  20. Anonymous7:29 PM

    Glad Freddie likes rhubarb. My favourite is just stewed rhubarb.
    http://www.farmingfriends.com/stewed-rhubarb/ Delicious.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  21. Charlotte, the March issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine contains an article on rhubarb written by yours truly. What a coincidence! Of course that doesn't do you much good over there on the other side of the Atlantic. Rhubarb does have a fascinating history, in which England played a large role. The powdered root, originating in China, was a favorite purgative. It was given to Henry VIII, and is mentioned by Shakespeare. Of course you Brits wanted to grow your own, which is how the world learned that the stems are edible. People were mad for rhubarb in the 19th century. Maybe it will make a comeback. We always had huge pots of stewed rhubarb from the garden when I was growing up. The leaves are not exactly "poisonous," but they do contain a certain oxalic acid, which is toxic and can be harmful if ingested in sufficient quantities. The same stuff gives sorrel (or dock)--a rhubarb cousin-- its pleasantly sour flavor.

    I should think you could organize a perfect tea around rhubarb tarts.

  22. Anonymous5:10 PM

    Hello! I just found your blog (from a slice of cherry pie), and i think it will be of great inspiration to me as i heve to kids (6 and 3) and it's really difficult to make them est veggies. By the way i'm portuguese, from the Algarve and we don't use much rhubarb here (ruibarbo)i think i've never seen it in the market (praça)
    Keep with the veggies

  23. Dora,
    Do keep visiting. And let us know what works with your kids.
    Ed Bruske,
    It is a shame I cant buy this magazine in the UK. I will look at some of our bigger London newsagents for it. Rhubarb is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the UK which is good. I notice the first new stems are appearing in our supermarkets now.
    Farming Friends - Hi. I did try the stewed rhubarb and although we all loved it Freddie didnt. But never mind - we keep going!

    Stef - Thanks for visitng - keep coming.
    Swirling Notions - Thank you - the oats are delicious.

    Anne Marie - Does that mean you have a dark shed in the back garden and at night he goes in with a candle to water the growing stems?
    Clare - That is a great recipe idea - flapjack with the rhubarb topping. We will try that.
    Pamela - False rhubarb is an excellent phrase which I think we should all adopt!

  24. THat crumble looks divine!

  25. Anonymous9:34 AM

    I love your blog. Looking forward to our little rascal Kasper(10 months) getting old enough to cook with. He's eating lotsa vegies now so plan to keep him heading that way.

    I read the crumble recipe on a stormy NZ summer afternoon and raced straight out into the garden in the rain, cut some rhubarb and threw it together while Kasper was having his afternoon sleep. Mmmmmmm. Looking forward to having it for breakfast tomorrow.

    Keep up the great work.

  26. Anonymous6:15 AM


    One of themany reasons kids don't eat vegetables is that it doesn't ahve a great flavour. Most of the time if you saute it in cumin, some onion, ginger, tomato and if you like garlic, and chilli powder if you can stand the heat, it tastes excellent. You could check out Indian recipes and try making them with less spice. Also many a time they are made boiled or made like a soup, we usually call it with different names and have it with rice or breads. But on its own too the soup or curry can be had. Yo could search for Indian food blogs on google.



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