Thursday April 03rd 2008, 7:02 pm

rhubarb in abundance

I wish I could say that the rhubarb in the picture above, growing in such abundance it is flowing over the fence, was mine, but it isn’t. It belongs to my neighbours and I am suffering a serious case of rhubarb envy. Of course in gardening there are some things you can’t possibly cheat. Trying to control nature is like King Canute turning back the tide – it aint going to happen. When you plant rhubarb all the books and any expert gardener will tell you, the first year you mustn’t pull off any stems and the second year you can harvest but only sparingly as the crown takes that long to become established and strong.
I thought that my two rhubarb plants which went in last year were doing really well and was looking forward to a crop of some sort in the months ahead, if only a handful of stalks. I’d be happy with just one rhubarb crumble to keep me sweet till next year. But on closer inspection I realised that what I thought were leaves all knubbling up and ready to unfurl were in fact flowers.

rhubarb starting to flower

I have seen the flowers on sale in smart London florists and when fully grown they are really fabulous, towering and architectural (if a little wierd) but when growing rhubarb for culinary purposes they are not at all desirable. They sap all the strength from the plant and if not removed as soon as you see them appear can mean that the plant will never ever recover properly. My rhubarb could be destined for a life with chronic fatigue syndrome if I don’t take immediate action. Then to add insult to injury, I noticed my neighbours rhubarb, so full of vim and vigour it looks set to leap over the fence.
So again it is a lesson in patience that nature kindly teaches. I’ve removed the flowers and will need to keep removing any more that appear and just hope that with some TLC next year I will be rewarded. I have read somewhere that you can eat the flowers, (DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!) and they do look a bit like calabrese, but I think I’ll give it a miss as everything ever written about rhubarb shreiks about the leaves being poisonous and NOT TO EAT THEM. In the meantime, luckily for me, only one of my neighbours, in the house with the plentiful supply, likes rhubarb so I have been told to help myself to theirs. So expect a few rhubarb recipes in the coming weeks.

you must cut the flowers of rhubarb

Our neighbour at the allotment grows mammoth rhubarb and forces it under upturned black plastic dustbins, it doesn’t look that nice but the breadth of them means that it is easy to force a really large clump resulting in lovely tender pink stems with lime yellow leaves.
We have been given armfuls and wanting to find a new way of preparing this really British fruit, I remembered an old lady in Corsham who always made rhubarb squash as a summer drink, a lovely pink cordial.
Not wanting to use too much sugar I decided to juice the rhubarb, I added an apple and a lime and diluted the resulting juice with pure pressed red grape juice to add sweetness.
It was delicious but I think must be made with forced rhubarb as the natural form is much more sour.

Comment by deborah s m 04.10.08 @ 12:43 am

I understand rhubarb envy only too well – it just won’t grow in our garden with its heavy clay soil. But I also envy your pics of the rhubarb – they are terrific and would look so good in thePictureKitchen stock library!! Nudge nudge …..

Comment by Marielou 04.12.08 @ 5:29 pm

I have just made my first rhubarb cake of the year from our humble rhubarb patch..
It is a lovely moist cake… if you would like the recipe .. just let me know!

Comment by Michele 04.13.08 @ 2:02 pm

If you have lots of rhubarb try Nigella’s rhubarb mincemeat recipe it’s wonderful and can be adapted to what-ever dried fruit you have in the cupboard – I record what i use from year to year but it’s always tasty!

Comment by Christina 04.15.08 @ 12:54 pm