Page 24 - ALG Issue 1 2022
P. 24

Once used mainly as a purgative and labelled the “All-Bran” of the Age of Enlightenment by historians, rhubarb is once again a popular ingredient
with home cooks and chefs. Used medicinally from the 17th century onwards, rhubarb became a popular dessert in the 19th century and a staple of the working-class diet. The tartness of the rhubarb stems was rendered palatable by the availability of cane sugar from the West Indies.
From the 1870s, growers in the Rhubarb Triangle of West Yorkshire were producing forced rhubarb with much sweeter and tender stems and shipping daily on the Rhubarb Special Express down to markets in London. The crop was grown in dark sheds, heated by coal and fed with Shoddy – a wool fibre rich in nitrogen; both are available from local industries.
Rhubarb is best grown from a crown, either shop bought or divided from a friend’s mature rhubarb plant; seed grown plants take longer to produce fruit and may not come true to type. Crowns will go on cropping well for about ten years but may need splitting after five years. Plant the crown with
the growing bud just under or on the surface of well drained, fertile soil in
a partly shaded position, dig in some well-rotted manure in a wide area before you plant and clear of weeds. Container plants can be planted all year round – crowns are planted between November and March. Space plants 90cm apart. Mulch well in autumn with well-rotted organic matter but do not bury the crown. Feed in February with
a general purpose fertiliser such as fish, blood and bone; water well in dry summers.
Do not harvest in the first year of planting but in subsequent years, dependant on variety, sticks can be taken from April to August and the new autumn maturing variety will also
give you fruit from September through to November. The sticks should be pulled from the stump with a twisting motion and never take more
than half of the plant at a time. Remove any flower stalks that
appear. Rhubarb is generally trouble free, but it can be affected by crown rot, honey fungus and
hot, dry spells.
If you would like a crop of tender, sweet, pink stems, it is possible to force a plant into early growth by covering with a terracotta
rhubarb forcer or big bucket just as the shoots start to appear in
late winter. Remove after 4 weeks to reveal the mild flavoured, pink stems. The plant will then need to
be left for a year to recover.
Rhubarb can be made into a syrup or jam, infused into gin or vodka, and served with meat or poultry.
   24 Allotment and Leisure Gardener
Reproduced with kind permission from the Garden Museum Collection
  Rhubarb and custard cocktail – makes 2 drinks
40ml gin or vanilla vodka 40 ml rhubarb syrup
40 ml advocaat
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain or whisk advocaat with a little lemonade and float on top by pouring over a spoon.
To make the syrup – soften 3 cups of chopped rhubarb, 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, and fresh lemon juice in a pan on the stove top for 20 minutes. Strain to remove the pulp, without pressing. Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil to thicken and intensify the flavour.

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