This week in the allotment the broad beans have just been planted out, potato foliage is emerging and annual flower seeds are germinating. Towering above all this busy activity is a forest of rhubarb, already supplying us with delicious crumbles, salsas and sponges.
We inherited seven rhubarb crowns on our allotment last year so my kitchen was in rhubarb overdrive from April to July. We trialled many sweet and savoury recipes â€“ here are a few of the most successful, plus how to give your rhubarb the care and attention it deserves to keep it cropping well throughout spring and summer.
Rhubarb is best planted in autumn, although pot-grown plants can be planted at any time of year and donâ€™t harvest first year plants to give them time to develop strong root systems â€“ then start harvesting in year two. Rhubarb appreciates plenty of feeding, so a top dressing of well-rotted farmyard manure will help ensure a good harvest. Plants produce their first stems from around February onwards, depending on variety (this year my â€˜Timperley Earlyâ€™ was emerging by Christmas Day, whilst â€˜Early Champagneâ€™ â€“ despite its name â€“ has only just begun to show signs of growth.) Stems should be harvested once the plant is growing strongly (usually around April/May) by twisting and pulling rather than cutting and no more than half the stalks on each plant should be harvested at any one time.
Rhubarb stems can be chopped and frozen or stored in a clear plastic bag in the fridge for around two weeks. Although I sometimes stew rhubarb in a little water, I generally prefer to cut 4/5 stems into chunks and roast it, either sprinkled with brown sugar or covered in 3 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped with a little of the syrup poured over the top. Once roasted, the rhubarb chunks and juice can be eaten simply with yoghurt or ice cream, or used as the base for other puddings such as rhubarb crumble. We also regularly cook this delicious rhubarb and apple sponge (you can use any fruit which is in season to accompany the rhubarb instead of apple):
Rhubarb and Apple Sponge
- 4 stems of rhubarb, chopped
- 2 cooking apples, cored, peeled and chopped
- A handful of raisins or sultanas
- Splash of water
- 2 eggs
- 115g unsalted butter
- 115g golden caster sugar
- 115g ground almonds
- Gently stew the apples, rhubarb and raisins in a little water, stirring as they cook (takes about 30 minutes).Â I donâ€™t tend to add sugar as the topping is sweet, but additional sugar can be added to the stewing fruit to taste.
- Cream the butter and sugar.Â Beat inÂ the eggs one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds. When the fruit is soft, put it in an ovenproof dish and cover gently with the sponge mix. Cook at 170Â°C for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with yoghurt, cream or ice cream.
- Alternatively, rhubarb works well in savoury dishes like this green rhubarb salsa with mackerel pate on toast. This makes a lovely summer lunch - the tartness of the salsa complements the salty fish patÃ© perfectly.
Green Rhubarb Salsa with Mackerel Pate on Toast
- 4 smoked mackerel fillets
- 250 cream cheese
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 50g rhubarb (1/2 stem)
- 50g cucumber
- 1/2 shallot
- 1 chilli (I usedÂ the first chilli of the seasonÂ â€“ a â€˜Hungarian Hot Waxâ€™ which hasÂ a mediumÂ heat, but any chilli or amount of chilli can be used depending on tastes)
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- Pinch salt and pepper
- Mix the finely diced rhubarb, cucumber, shallot and chilli. Add the sugar, lime juice, salt and black pepper. Mix together. Leave for an hour to marinate.
- Put the flaked mackerel, cream cheese and lemon juice in a food processor and mix until smooth.
- Serve the pate on toast with salsa on the side.
- However you eat your rhubarb, remember to stop harvesting around the end of July to give the plants time to build up their food reserves so the whole process can begin again next spring.
By Nic Wilson
Nic Wilson is a garden writer, garden designer and enthusiastic home grower (especially of more unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs). Â She enjoys volunteering in her local community garden and experimenting in the kitchen with crops from her garden, allotment and the hedgerows.Â