The Cottage Smallholder

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Rhubarb: memories and plans


Photo: Rhubarb by Ayla87

Photo: Rhubarb by Ayla87

Stock photo by Ayla87
As a child I remember being given a stick of raw rhubarb and a saucer of sugar. The trick was to dip the rhubarb in the sugar and munch. The sharp acidic taste of the rhubarb remains with me still. I can still see me and Seraphina sitting on the grass in the sunshine wearing smocked summer frocks and Startrite sandals (big enough so you couldn’t feel your toes in the shop) . The awsome privilege of being allowed to take china saucers outside. The love hate marriage of the rhubarb and white sugar crystals that gradually drew the rhubarb juice and became little hills of pink. Licking these hills off my fingers was the best bit. Neither too sharp or to tart. Just right.

The challenge was to chew the rhubarb stalk in such a way as to release as much of the juice as possible into the sugar without being overpowered by the sharpness.

When I arrived at the cottage I planted some Champagne rhubarb. It didn’t care for its new home and died the next winter. A few years later I met Alf – a retired carpenter and superb gardener.  He suggested bartering some rhubarb crowns and a gooseberry bush for a small box of our homemade chutney. What a bargain. Both the rhubarb and the gooseberry bush have blossomed (and he loved the chutney!). I reckon that the rhubarb plants must be the popular and prolific Victoria variety.

They settled in well and by the second year they were good strong plants producing lots of stalks from late April to well into November and the first frosts. My initial idea was to grow rhubarb for home made wine. Given long enough to mature, this is a delicious wine. We have several demijohns maturing in the barn.

Rhubarb infused vodka is another winner. Recipe to follow in a few days time.

The big problem with eating rhubarb is Danny. Like me he grew up in a rhubarb loving family. We both shared the delight of eating cold chilled stewed rhubarb straight from the fridge. However with the passing of the decades his acid tummy makes rhubarb a no-no these days. Some times I’ll cook a little for myself but with three enormous crowns I’ve decided to play about with rhubarb a bit this year.

I’m planning to develop new set of preserves recipes including rhubarb jellies, rhubarb jams even a rhubarb vinegar. I think a little rhubarb and a lot of elderflowers/strawberries/ginger might be a great combination too.

Up until now I haven’t given our rhubarb any special attention as it seems to grow so well on its own. However, it’s all change this year. I’ve discovered that it prefers a slightly acid soil so I have dug loads of organic matter and well rotted manure around the crowns. I’ve also found that ours grows, by chance, in the perfect place. Rhubarb doesn’t enjoy sun all day and a bit of shade is welcome. Ours is planted about eight feet away from the back of a south west facing eight foot yew hedge. So it gets a blast of sun early in the morning and another surge mid afternoon when the sun is at its highest.

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  1. Literally wrote this up for a friend yesterday and the Gin is just as interchangeable as vodka…

    One bottle of Vodka @ 70cl (I buy the Taknova stuff from Aldi @ £8 per bottle. Anything more expensive is a waste IMHO)
    300g of Rhubarb
    150g of sugar (depending on taste and more can be added if desired)

    I tend to do three bottles at a time and steep in a demijohn or nowadays a 3 litre parfait jar (a cunning purchase from ebay). Simply chop the Rhubarb into 1cm chunks, pour over the sugar and then the vodka. Shake twice a day to dissolve the sugar for the first week and then once a week for the next three weeks (so four weeks in total but you can leave for six). When the steeping time has elapsed, strain the contents into a straining bag and then suspend the bag to ensure it drips all that liquory goodness out into a bowl, this generally takes about 3 hours or so. Don’t squeeze the bag as last time I squeezed the contents, it ended up leaving an unpleasant black sediment in the bottles.

    Re-bottle the Rhubarb Vodka and enjoy the extra 20cl or so it will create. Oh, and the sugary alcholic rhubarb pieces are nice to nibble on although we end up throwing these away, but feel free to experiment with them 😀

  2. Heather Espley

    I was given a packet of rhubarb seeds as a Christmas present 2 Christmases ago, and managed to raise 12 seedlings. I now have 4 ‘first year’ plants in situ in garden, have given 2 away, and have 4 spindly ones being nurtured in the greenhouse – just about hanging on, but I’m hopeful that a bit of TLC will pull them through. It’s been a long wait to my first harvest of a meagre 6 sticks – but it was worth it. Hoping for great things next year. Where is that recipe for rhubarb gin? Haven’t tracked it down yet. Cheers.

  3. Nicola

    I’m loving the sound of rhubarb vinegar – would you use that in a similar way to raspberry vinegar?…. Would you make it in the same way?

  4. Jo@LittleFfarm Dairy

    We went out for dinner last night to the wonderful Pachamama Bistro in Newcastle Emlyn. For essert we shared a dish of rhubarb palova with Lovespoon Madagascan Vanilla Gelato (it did feel really weird ordering something we’d made whilst out at a restaurant…!).

    The dish was sublime; & I must say I’d never have thought of using rhubarb in a pavlova. But in some ways it makes sense, when you consider the tartness & sharpness of some raspberries against the delicate light, fluffy sweetness of meringue. Jady also recommends using rhubarb in the same way, to make Eton Mess. I don’t know whether if I made it, it would taste anywhere near so spectacular; but it’s an intruguing idea.

    And I must say we were proud that our gelato was teamed up with such a delicious dessert – it really was a marriage made in heaven & an unexpected surprise.

  5. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Every gardener has a favorite use for rhubarb. I’ve only been a gardener for two years, but I already have mine. It’s a simple cake — you can assemble it in 10 minutes — and the rhubarb keeps it both moist and interesting.

    It’s here, if you want it:

    Happy rhubarb!

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