Before I started gardening, I thought I was fulfilled.
However, my Experiments with Plants directly and indirectly filled voids that I hadn't even recognised, lifting my happiness to a higher level.
This is a blog about a garden near London, England, and how it is changing my approach to life.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Rhubarb (22 SEP 2011)
I remember as a child ladling custard onto stewed rhubarb to try to neutralise its sourness, resulting in a bowlful of custard with quite an unappetising colour; as I grew older I began to appreciate its tart flavour. Rhubarb is an acquired taste enjoyed in the West, mainly stewed with sugar as a pie or crumble filling or stirred into whipped cream to make rhubarb fool. A different type of rhubarb (rheum palmatum) is grown in the East, valued more for the medicinal properties of its roots. There are also ornamental rhubarbs which are not edible. The leaves of all rhubarbs are poisonous containing oxalic acid and other toxins, the stalks do too but to a much lesser degree.
In spring I bought Red Canada Rhubarb roots in a small packet and planted them at the front of the "woodland" in dappled shade. I assumed that the plant would take a few years to mature, but less than six months later what looks like ready-to-eat rhubarb has emerged and the plant has potentially paid for itself.
So far I haven't harvested any of the stalks, because I was waiting for them to turn red along their entire length like the picture on the packet. However, as time passes the stalks are withering not reddening. You're supposed to feed rhubarb with a good dose of well-rotted manure; this year it went without. I was beginning to wonder if I should have made the effort to drag a sack of manure to and through the house. Checking what was available at the DIY store, the only option was processed manure from dairy cattle which contains hormones & antibiotics, I guess. It may seem strange that I drink cow's milk without a thought, but I'm not prepared to fork dairy manure into my soil until I've researched it properly first.
all rhubarb leaves are poisonous
not-so-red Red Canada Rhubarb
That's not the only reason why I haven't harvested, I have a romantic idea of forcing rhubarb as practised in dark sheds in the north of England. The rhubarbs are grown outside to store energy, then taken to the sheds. As they search for light, they rely on starches from their roots rather than photosynthesis to grow, which results in a sweeter vegetable with a sherbert-pink colour. Traditionally, rhubarb is forced by candle-light, but even in a romantic state of mind I realise that this would be a fire hazard, so I'm hoping that an unwashed window at the side of my garden shed will allow in just enough light to direct the rhubarb to reach upwards. The disadvantage with this method is that once the rhubarb has been forced, the roots are spent and are thrown away. Therefore, I'll divide the plant and keep half growing outside for next year.
So what would I do with an annual supply of sherbet-pink, sweetened-by-darkness rhubarb stalks? ...
I would cut them into big chunks, bake with sugar, then layer them with cooled custard and crushed ginger biscuits; that nostalgic rhubarb and custard combination, with less custard and a slightly more elegant presentation.
In February 2010, Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb was added to the EU's list of foods with protected designation of origin which includes Cornish Clotted Cream, Stilton Cheese & Jersey Royal Potatoes. Shortly after, shops in the UK ran out of rhubarb supplies when Delia Smith (doyenne of British home-cooking) demonstrated this recipe on a TV advert :
Dan Eisenreich attempted to compile all the information about rhubarb that he could find on the internet. He explains that medicinal rhubarb grown in China (rheum palmatum) has roots with purgative properties.
Garden rhubarbs grown for culinary use outside China are probably less potent hybrids of rheum rhabarbarum. Here are some varieties :