How to grow rhubarb well
If you’ve never grown rhubarb before, it’s easy to get started and to enjoy success, as rhubarb isn’t particularly demanding and is resistant to most pests. Whilst you can grow rhubarb from seed or from small semi-dried roots sold in packets at garden centres, it will get off to a much better start if you plant a crown that you buy in the pot or that you divide from an existing well-established plant.
If you have friends and neighbours who have plenty of rhubarb, ask them if they would split their plant to share some with you. Don’t forget that there are different varieties of rhubarb, so if you are a big fan, it might be wise to plant two or three varieties to ensure a long-cropping season, from the very earliest types, such as Timperley Early, through to the thicker-stemmed Victoria, which can be harvested right through to late summer.
When planting rhubarb, choose a well-drained site in a sunny spot. Dig a deep hole and add plenty of well-rotted manure to the hole, then a layer of soil and position the root so that the crown sits just above the top level of the soil when the hole is filled. Don’t be tempted to pick any stems from your rhubarb for the first year as the plant needs all of its strength to establish itself. You will definitely be rewarded the following year if you resist picking in the first year.
Forced rhubarb is a great way to get the preserving season off to a cracking start and adding a bit of ginger really lifts the flavour to create something quite special. Here’s the recipe:
1kg rhubarb, washed and trimmed
1kg jam sugar
juice and zest of a lemon
60gms stem ginger
5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and washed
Wash the rhubarb and slice into chunks and place in a plastic or glass bowl, along with the sugar, lemon, and stem ginger. Grate the fresh ginger finely and add that also. Stir thoroughly and then cover and set aside for 2-3 hours. Stir from time to time to encourage the sugar to dissolve.
Transfer to a maslin pan and heat on a medium setting. Stir continuously until the sugar has fully dissolved and the rhubarb is soft. At this point, check for the setting point (105°C) using a jam thermometer, or the chilled plate method. If the setting point has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly for 3-4 minutes. Transfer into clean, sterilised jam jars and seal immediately. Label once the jars have cooled.
One of the simplest pleasures for this time of year is an elegant rhubarb fool, served simply in a glass jar, with just a spoon of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. It’s another fantastic way to use up some rhubarb and it’s an easy way to make quite an elegant dinner party dessert. Here’s our favourite recipe:
500gms rhubarb, washed and chopped
6 tbsps caster sugar
150ml Greek yoghurt
250ml double cream
fresh mint, to garnish
Put the rhubarb in a lidded saucepan with the caster sugar and heat gently until the rhubarb is tender, but not mushy. Turn up the heat slightly and take the lid off the pan for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and drain the juice off, setting it aside to use later. Allow the rhubarb to cool.
Whip the cream until it stands in peaks and then combine the Greek yoghurt. Fold in the rhubarb and chill in the fridge for an hour. Serve each portion in a glass jar, with the reserved rhubarb juice drizzled over it and a tiny sprig of fresh mint as a garnish.
Rhubarb and Oats Breakfast
Lightly steam some chopped rhubarb with a little sugar the night before. Once cooled, refrigerate overnight. At the same time, put 4 tablespoons of oats in a glass jar and fill with fresh milk. Screw on the lid and put that in the fridge overnight too. In the morning, spook two tablespoons of Greek yoghurt into a dessert bowl, add two spoons of the oats and two spoons of the rhubarb and stir well. Serve immediately.