Christine McFadden Cookery and Food Writing
Christine McFadden with students
Alternative Pancakes
A Taste of Rabbit
Beyond Carrot Cake
Cherries are the Only Fruit
Cool Curries
Drupe Fruit
Feel the Fear and
Cook it Anyway
Festive Flours
Glorious Globes
Glorious Greens
Golden Orbs
Good Eggs
Great British Pies
Heavenly Herbs
I Just Happened to Have…
a guinea fowl, kaffir
lime leaves and...
I Just Happened to Have…
a shoulder of goat, some
dried apricots and
a few almonds
King Cauliflower
More Than Marmalade/2
Of Cabbages and Kings
Pears and Partridges
Pumpkins and Winter Squash
Roasting Chestnuts
Rhubarb Renaissance
Sicilian Utopia
Strawberry Fare
The Meat of Kings
Time to Talk About Eggs
The Not-So-Humble Parsnip
We Won't Go Until
We Get Some
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Christine's blog

This is the place to enjoy Christine's food-related musings – from seasonal food and food producers to cooking tools, food markets and gastro-travel. You'll also find some must-try recipes and invaluable tips and techniques.

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Rhubarb Renaissance

Rhubarb has always struck me as faintly ludicrous – not just the name but the appearance too. The thrusting stalks and umbrella-like crinkled leaves suggest it might come from a tropical paradise rather than the homely rhubarb patch. That said, the sub-tropical gardens in Abbotsbury, Dorset, are famous for the magnificent Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) that grows there. The leaf is over 3 metres wide and is said to be 'something of a record'. But I digress. Native to Siberia, domestic rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) has regular-sized leaves and prefers a cool climate.

I particularly like the early forced variety with its shocking-pink stalks and tiny lime-green leaves. A January crop grown in 'the rhubarb triangle' of West Yorkshire, forced rhubarb is painstakingly nurtured in mysterious candle-lit sheds – a long slow process that demands the level of devotion given to fine wine or cheese production. Such is its value that forced rhubarb has Protected Designated Origin (PDO) status, an award given to top-quality products produced only in a designated area, putting it in the same category as Parma ham and champagne.

Unforced outdoor-grown rhubarb arrives in the spring. The stalks are thicker and the colour a glowing deep red tinged with green. As the season progresses, the stalks become increasingly thick and coarse, and the flavour changes from merely sour to excessively so.

Forced or outdoor-grown, rhubarb has suffered from an old-fashioned image that may cause those of a certain age to shudder at best-forgotten memories. As the distinguished late author Alan Davidson wrote in The Oxford Companion to Food, "the combination of rhubarb and custard is as irresistible to some as it is off-putting to others".

As a relatively recent rhubarb convert, I have discovered the secret to a successful compôte (with or without custard) is to submerge chunks of rhubarb into a bubbling hot sugar syrup for just 30 seconds, rather than stewing it to shreds. Drain into a bowl then pour the syrup back into the pan. Boil for 5 minutes until the bubbles look large and sticky, then pour over the rhubarb and leave to cool.

Even more delectable is rhubarb paired with star anise in a stunning pink
Rhubarb Tart with Star Anise and Orange. Crisp pastry and sticky caramelised rhubarb perfumed with anise and orange zest make a superb culinary combination.

Moving on to savoury things, I have put rhubarb to good use in mulligatawny soup. It adds splashes of pink to an otherwise beige mixture, and provides the necessary tartness. It is also good with lamb in a Moroccan-style tagine, or whizzed to a pale pink vinaigrette with walnut oil, wine vinegar and seasonings – excellent with hot-smoked trout or salmon.


© Christine McFadden, May 2018

    Photography: Christine McFadden    
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