“The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…” reported the embassy official Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, 1403-05 from his post in Timur. Rhubarb progressed steadily from the East to the banks of the Volga (where is got its name) and across Europe.
In 2010 the UK growers of the rhubarb triangle (now bounded by Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, Yorks) claimed a victory in their application to have forced rhubarb included on the list of European Commission’s Protected Food Names along with Champagne and Parma Ham.
Forced rhubarb spends two years growing, without being harvested, in an open field to build up strength and reserves in the crowns which are transferred to grow their third year (or few months, in reality) in sheds and are harvested between from Christmas until February. The stems are totally pink, very tender, long and etiolated. Their strength spent, the crowns are consigned to the compost heap.
Full of promise, my rhubarb crowns have been slowly unfurling throughout February – they have survived March’s snow-covering and yesterday were ready for the first “pull”. I have never ventured into forcing my barb, but really make the most of the main crop – which seems to last from April through to July or early August. I’m not much of a gardener but so long as I give these crowns a good dose of fresh compost each autumn they seem to thrive; this year I think it will be time to split the crowns which have quadrupled in three years.
Here is a recipe for Rhubarb Custard Cake, courtesy of Helen Creese from Salvation Cafe, originally from an “Australian Womans Weekly Baking Book” which I have tried out on my family over Easter, thanks, Helen – they loved it.