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Celery and Celeriac






Rhubarb crumble

Rhubarb salad

Rhubarb sauce

Rhubarb tagine

Spinach etc.

Rediscover Rhubarb

The first fresh “fruit” of the spring, rhubarb is at its most delicious when pulled and used within a few hours, especially if it is the very early forced rhubarb. This has shocking pink stalks and its leaves are bright yellow from having been deprived of sunlight. Freshly pulled, these stems are so tender and bursting with freshness that they snap really easily so handle them carefully. If you have to store rhubarb for a few days, cut the leaves off but leave the bottom ends of the stalks (or rather petioles to give them their botanical name) uncut as they will need to be trimmed when you prepare the rhubarb. Removing the leaves reduces the amount of moisture that will be lost from the stems since rhubarb leaves have such a large surface area through which to transpire.
Yes - rhubarb leaves do contain so much oxalic acid that they are poisonous, though you would, apparently, have to eat about 5kg for a lethal dose. However the leaves are perfectly safe to add to your compost heap: the composting process completely breaks down the oxalic acid.
Bought rhubarb will have been trimmed up so just keep it somewhere cool until you are ready to use it. Do buy British rhubarb, freshest is best, and the Yorkshire rhubarb growers are hoping for an “appellation controlée” for their truly outstanding product.
If you have any garden space try to fit in rhubarb, it is an architectural plant with its handsome leaves and huge creamy flower spikes. It will flourish in partial shade and even in damp, heavy ground; in fact some of the sites of abandoned farmhouses in the commercial forests near our home still have rhubarb plants struggling on.
forced rhubarbIf you grow your own you can force your own. Though the specialist commercial growers lift their crowns and force them in special sheds with heat for the earliest, most succulent crop, it is possible to encourage an early crop of bright pink stems simply by covering a crown of rhubarb with a large bucket, pot or even a plastic compost bin. The important thing is to exclude the light, so make sure your covering is black or dark coloured and thick, cover the drainage holes in a pot, or you can buy beautiful terracotta forcing pots. Cover a crown when you see the buds looking fat and ready to burst and after a few weeks you will be able to start pulling the young stalks. Pull, don’t cut, the stalks, bending them back with a slight twist to detach them cleanly. You can harvest the forced rhubarb from a crown for one month but no longer or you will kill the crown, after all you are removing all of its growth; then leave to grow and recharge for the rest of the season. Also you should not force the same crown the next year.
If you don’t force your rhubarb but leave it to start into growth in its own time you can keep pulling the stems until late June or early July. Once the weather becomes hot and dry, if it does, the stems become stringy and the flavour deteriorates.
Rhubarb freezes well: chop it into 2cm lengths and pack into freezer boxes. When cutting up rhubarb don’t use too sharp a knife! A blunter one will not easily cut through any tough skin or stringy bits, allowing you to peel them off. You can sprinkle a little sugar on top before freezing but don’t overdo it – there is more to rhubarb than crumbles and pies!