Saturday, 9 February 2008

Rhubarb! Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb!

Forced Winter RhubarbAs far as I can tell, forced rhubarb is the very first seasonal produce of the year. Up to now, it's been stored foods from last year, or things that get produced in greenhouses pretty much all year round, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, cukes and sprouts. Whether I have Sutton or Victoria I could not tell you - as far as I can see, distinctions in rhubarb varieties are of more concern to the gardener than the cook.

Rhubarb roots are dug up in the late fall, then forced in the dark. Foodland Ontario claims it's available in January, but I don't think I've ever seen it before February. At any rate, it's here now.

Forced rhubarb is noticably milder than field rhubarb; it's generally a paler, more delicate pink and you may need a bit less sugar than otherwise called for. It's usually sold without the leaves, but if it has leaves, they will be pale and yellowish due to being grown without light. As with field rhubarb, the leaves should be discarded as they are toxic.

I think a lot of people think of rhubarb as being somewhat old-fashioned, but it's really quite a modern vegetable*. Until the late 18th century it was used only as a medicine, then it became popular as a food, particularly pie to the point that it was often known as "pie plant". It has an affinity for cream and custard, and can be mixed with apples at this time of year or strawberries and other berries later in the spring. It comes originally from central Asia, and there are a number of Persian dishes than combine it with lamb. I really like it simply stewed with a little sugar and served as a spring tonic, although I wouldn't say no to a slice of my Aunt Alethea's sour cream rhubarb crumble pie either. Recipe will no doubt follow at some point this spring. In the mean time, I'll remind you of this recipe, which would work very well with rhubarb, although you should check the sugar - you might want a bit more than with the strawberries.

*It's sort of the anti-tomato; being a vegetable used like a fruit.

Rhubarb on Foodista


Kevin said...

I just picked up some forced rhubarb at the farmers market this morning. I can't wait to try it out.

Bellini Valli said...

Bring on the rhubarb :D