Rhubarb is a very versatile vegetable, which is often used in desserts. It has a very strong acidic taste and cannot be eaten raw, but when steamed or boiled with sugar to taste it can provide the basis for a lovely crumble, pie or mousse.
This versatile plant was always a feature in my father’s garden when I was a child. Like blackberries and gooseberries, rhubarb grows easily in Yorkshire soil. The leaf is poisonous because of oxalic acid and should never be eaten. However, the root was highly prized and of higher value to the Chinese as a medicine for curing intestinal and liver problems than other well known spices and opiates. In 1777, an apothecary in Banbury, Oxfordshire produced roots at home to develop as a drug for many other ailments. This led to the discovery of how to force an early crop.
We now have what is known as ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’ around Leeds that supplied London’s Spitalfields and Covent Garden markets in the nineteenth century. Forced rhubarb is paler than the later crop, which is sweeter as it is grown outdoors.
When I want some I select the mature stalks that are ready to break off at the base of the plant. I then cut off the leaves and the base of the stalks, wash and cut into inch long chunks ready for the pan. I crush root ginger into the mix with sugar to taste. This is all that is needed to cook the rhubarb through. Always cover and simmer gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes until the lumps still hold their shape, but are soft to the fork.
Rhubarb crumble or pie is delicious, but if you want a lighter alternative, then a sprinkling of organic muesli on top, served with custard, Greek yoghurt or light cream goes down a treat.