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. I grew rhubarb plants from seed the first yr we moved here and planted 2 of them in the corner of the raised veg bed. They have thrived ever since growing huge plants and yeilding massive amounts of rhubard in fact last yr just one huge cropping filled 2 carrier bags with sticks twice the thickness of my thumb and about 2 1/2 foot long. But… and heres the but… it tastes vile 🙁 every yr i live in hope it will change and had thought it needed to fertilise, or flower ( which it has) and them it will taste ok but no its vile… it tastes of rhubarb but with a very strange metallic sort of tang… I keep thinking about giving it 1 more yr or should I just dig it out and go buy myself a decent plant from the garden centre any ideas as to why it tastes funny as I am intrigued. Thanks.

  2. Danny Carey

    You have a lovely young blog, Cristina. Many thanks for your post that shows the video by Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity. What a brilliant ex-tempore speaker he is. No notes and a fascinating and engaging talk. Entertainment and Education in a fun manner. He expresses what I hold true, but in a far better manner than I ever could.

    Regarding rhubarb, one of the great disappointments of my life is that I can no longer enjoy leftover stewed rhubarb for breakfast the following morning. Val (BS) has sent us this recipe for rhubarb sauce. Seems like it goes with everything. From duck and lamb to veal and venison.
    Thank you Val.

    RHUBARB SAUCE (by Bright Spark)

    Makes about 4 pints.
    3 lbs rhubarb
    1 lb raisins
    2 lbs sugar
    ½ pint spiced vinegar

    1 – Wash the rhubarb, trim off ends and discard, cut flesh into 1-inch lengths.
    2 – Clean the raisins, picking out any stalks, etc.
    3 – Dissolve the sugar in the spiced vinegar over a gentle heat then simmer for 10 minutes.
    4 – Add the prepared rhubarb and raisins and cook gently until the mixture is thick.
    5 – Liquidize or rub through a sieve to form a puree.
    6 – Pour into warm, dry bottles (or jars).
    7 – Seal when cold.

  3. Have you tried poaching rhubarb in a little water/sugar until soft and then making up a bought orange jelly mix and combining the two together, yummy. This suggestion was given to me by a very old neighbour of mine, and it is the only way I can get my youngish daughter to eat rhubarb!!

  4. Cristina

    I discovered rhubarb late in my life -I’m from Italy and I only tried it since living in Ireland – but now I love it. Every year I make strawberry & rhubarb jam, and last year I added vanilla beans to it – Delicious!!!!

  5. Belinda

    I made a lovely rhubarb chutney before Christmas … so good with roast pork & ham

  6. I’m a big rhubarb fan and always grew it on my allotment in England. Haven’t seen it here in Croatia, but I currently have two recently germinated seedlings on the kitchen windowsill. Fingers crossed!

  7. shelley

    last year I ate lightly stewed strawberries with more stewed rhubarb IT WAS DELICIOUS

  8. Maybe someday, when I’m looking for something to do, I’ll try growing and cooking rhubarb, but as a kid, my grandmother used to make strawberry rhubarb pie, and all I could think of was what a waste of strawberries!

    Maybe if I find some on offer somewhere I’ll try it to see if I’ve outgrown hating it.

  9. Toffeeapple

    I love raw rhubarb, even without the sugar. Cast iron insides, me.

  10. brightsprite

    Hi Fiona, I have a recipe for Rhubarb sauce, which includes raisins/vinegar/brown sugar etc, which is wonderful. My neighbour used to give me the older rhubarb that she didn’t fancy cooking up, and that made gorgeous rhubarb sauce. It’s a bit like HP, or Daddies-type sauce and stored in bottles rather than jars.

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