Our Seasonal Vegetable of the Month
Rhubarb is a member of the family Polygonaceae and is related to sorrel. It grows best in cool climates and the effect of forcing was discovered by accident at the Chelsea Physic Garden early in the 19th century. In our temperate climate, rhubarb starts growing early in the spring.
Rhubarb was used as a medicine in ancient China and is still used today in various herbal preparations. Brought to Europe by Marco Polo (who always managed to get his backpack through customs), rhubarb first became known in Britain in the 16th century purely in a medicinal context. The idea of eating the stem may have occurred to people much later because of the resemblance to its smaller native relative, sorrel. John Ray, in his book Historia Plantarum (1686) compared rhubarb stalks favourably with those of sorrel. However, it was sometime before rhubarb recipes began to appear in English cookbooks, one of the earliest examples was in Mrs Rundell (A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy, 1806). Other recipes for sweet pies and tarts followed during the first half of the 19th century and rhubarb has been valued as a versatile food in our cookery ever since.
In Britain, rhubarb is often made in to sweet pies and crumbles and the combination of rhubarb and custard is deservedly popular.
Inspired! Rhubarb Crumble Pie below for those indecisive shall I make pie or crumble moments, just needs some homemade vanilla custard ice cream for ice cream or custard moments……
Rhubarb does indeed make deliciously comforting pies and puddings, but its sharpness also works extremely well with meat and oily fish dishes too. The use of ginger and strawberries to enhance the taste of rhubarb is traditional, especially in jam-making.
In many countries, rhubarb it is cooked as a vegetable, for example in Poland it is cooked with potatoes and aromatic herbs. It is used in khorest (stew) in Iran and it is added to spinach in Afghanistan. In Italy, it is used to make the aperitif Rabarbaro, which has a low alcoholic content and is regarded as a health drink.
Rhubarb is a nutritional powerhouse that provides a considerable number of fantastic health benefits. It is a useful source of fibre and contains vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, calcium, manganese, and other essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function well. Rhubarb also contains powerful antioxidants such as anthocyanin and lycopene, which are good for overall health. In herbal and nutritional medicine, rhubarb is used primarily for its balancing and positive effects on the digestive system.
Eating healthily doesn’t have to be difficult and expensive. Rhubarb has a plethora of health benefits, so if you are trying to improve your health give it a try or enjoy it just for being totally delicious.
What are your favourite rhubarb recipes? If you have any recipes, tales of rhubarb adventures in the kitchen or garden, please share with us.