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There was Rhubarb

12 May 2021
Rhubarb is not native to our land. It originated in Asia. The Chinese and the Russians used it chiefly for medicinal purposes due to its laxative properties.

It only arrived in Europe in the 18th century, and the first people to integrate rhubarb into their culinary traditions were the English. Initially it tended to be used more as an ornamental plant because, in fact, some varieties produce some very attractive flowers. 

Colonisation of the Caribbean then helped reduce the price of sugar, opening up new possibilities for eating the plant. It was at that point the English started going wild about “fool”. This is a sweet recipe comprising fresh fruit compote and a mixture of cream and yoghurt. An old-fashioned dessert that combines the sweetness of the cream with the acidity of the rhubarb. That same combination turns up in one of English cuisine’s classic partnerships: rhubarb and custard, as found in the sweets of the same name. 

A number of varieties are available today, and each one has its own particular character. The green ones are more acidic, whereas the red ones are sweeter.

One question remains: is it cooked like a vegetable, or like a fruit? 

In 1947, rhubarb was officially classified as a fruit, but a number of botanical textbooks also treat it as a vegetable. 

In fact, although it naturally remains best known for its culinary qualities in desserts, we shall see that it acquits itself rather well in savoury recipes, with a capacity to surprise! How about mackerel fillets with rhubarb chutney? Or rhubarb and coconut milk curry?

When choosing rhubarb to cook, look carefully at the stalks. They must be firm and unmarked. The stem must be quite green with pink edges. 

If you grow it yourself, make sure you pick it regularly. Rhubarb that is cut too late will become more stringy. 

Rhubarb growers can be found all over France, but particularly in Alsace and Picardy. The peak season, meanwhile, runs from April to June. 

When cooking rhubarb, do take care: not all of it can be eaten! 

Only the stalks are edible; the leaves are not. In some regions, however, they are still used to wrap cheeses and butter. If the stalks are too fibrous you can peel off the skin. 

You also have the option to eat it raw or cooked. Cooked rhubarb is often combined with products that have a naturally rounded, sweet flavour that marries perfectly with the fresh acidity of the rhubarb: apple, cinnamon, honey, banana, or even ginger peel.

In a savoury dish, it can accompany meat or fish. It goes perfectly in stuffings for poultry, or in salads.

If you want to store it, it can be dried or frozen equally well.

A delight to the tastebuds and a multitude of benefits to the body! In addition to its great eating qualities, rhubarb is a rich source of fibre. Packed with Vitamin C, it improves vitality and combats anaemia. It is also valuable to anyone with a liver condition because of its antiseptic action. 

With its low calorie count, it’s simply asking to be added! However, because of its acidity, we tend to cook it with a lot of sugar. Try not to be too heavy-handed!

So, have we convinced you? Then come along and look at the recipes our chefs have created to melt your heart!

A number of our Relais Dessert members have showcased rhubarb in combination with a range of ingredients. Vianney Bellanger, with his Tarte Mathilde, introduces us to a delicious alliance between rhubarb, strawberry and basil.

Rhubarb Inspiration Tart by Frédéric Cassel 

Strawberry and Rhubarb Verrines by Laurent Le Daniel

Rhubarb Mivvi by William Curley

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