The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

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. Try the rhubarb relish (I think its relish) in Pam corbins river cottage perserves handbook. Heavenly!!!!

  2. Michelle S.

    Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam anyone? Yummy!
    Just like the pie…..

  3. grapecat

    We make rhubarb wine and it is delicious! I highly recommend it. Very easy to do as well. I use CJJ Berry’s recipe 🙂

  4. I watched Nigel Slater cook fresh mackerel with poached rhubarb. It looked divine.

  5. Ah Nigella’s trusty Rhubarb Vodka – heaven!

  6. I came late to loving Rhubarb – I hated it as a kid, but since I fell in love with cooking and realised that even foods you dislike can usually be cooked a different way to make them more pallatable, I love it. I too wore smocked dresses. At the weekend, I bumped into someone who had known me at Junior school and she remembered me for my beautiful smocked dresses. My mum confessed to me that these were my cousins “hand me downs”. We have always done recycling at our house! xxxx

  7. I have never been that keen on rhubarb…I always remember stringy rhubarb compote with my yoghurt at school. But I am looking forward to your recipes, maybe they are what I need to get over my ambivalence! I imagine rhubarb vinegar will be delicious.

  8. Definately looking forward to the Rhubarb infused vokda recipe! Your wonderful posts about Strawberry Vodka and making Sloe Gin (and then using the remaining Sloes for Sloe Sherry) made me a minor star over the winter and this year I’m ramping up production including FWIW a Sloe Whisky which only needs one month of steeping.

    And if you’ve got the Rhubarb Wine recipe that would be superb!

  9. Magic Cochin

    Have you tried rhubarb in savoury dishes?

    This recipe for rhubarb and beef mince is delicious

    Rhubarb sauce served with mackerel, either fresh or smoked, is lovely too, and I’m sure a rhubarb chutney would go well with rich paté or with duck.

    Having failed to grow rhubarb in our present garden (my neighbours all have similar problems – mmmm?) I have started two crowns this spring against an east facing wall which gets the morning sun and shade in the afternoon (but the brick will still be fairly warm). Fingers crossed.


  10. I’m not a fan of rhubarb although perhaps as an adult it is time I revisited to see if my tastebuds have changed! However rhubarb was an intrinsic part of my childhood as I walked past a large field of it on my way to and from primary school (4 times a day as we went home for lunch. I’m not sure what it was about the plants that caught our imagination, which were hidden behind a hedge which obviously reached to the sky. Perhaps it was the triffid like size of the leaves which to the extremely small child I was seemed to be bigger than umbrellas. Or maybe it was the knowledge that the leaves were deadly poisonous. And why the fascination for this field of rhubarb when my mother grew it in the garden?

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