I grew up thinking that rhubarb is sour and can only be eaten in a pie or cobbler with lots of sugar to cover up the taste. That was okay but it did relegate it to one of the seldom used garden offerings. As I try not to eat all those calories, the rhubarb patch was ignored since I had such a limited idea of how to use it. Then in the spring of 2011 we started to process the rhubarb we were finding in abundance in back gardens, along the lanes and as ornamental plantings. The challenge was to find tasty, interesting ways to prepare rhubarb. We wanted to use as much rhubarb as possible, offer a variety of taste options, and inspire others to reconsider using this humble yet generous garden plant.
Wow it has been an exciting journey and before long we had a list of 18 preserves that featured rhubarb and launched our Rhubarb Rhapsody line! There were jams, jellies, chutney and even a steak sauce made with rhubarb. Then I tried a rhubarb mustard which some of our tasters thought was great. The mustard wasn't to my taste but as I am learning - there are many different palates out there!
Selling at the farmer's market, I see that as soon as people see the word - rhubarb - they dismiss the product and move on. Talk about a bad rap! So we started on a mission. "Rhubarb is good for your digestive system and it can be a mild laxative" - that appealed to people who were generally over 60. "It is a source of calcium and fibre" we added - but still couldn't get past instinctive reactions. People who already loved rhubarb, nodded in agreement but we were not getting new converts. So we started to offer tastings to show that rhubarb gently accents the flavour of its partner while adding a balance to all the sugar in jams. Finally the taste buds made the conversion!
When given a taste of Blue-Barb people were blown away with the intense blueberry flavour that had a pleasant edge. It was not too sweet! We knew that it was the tartness of the rhubarb that kept it all in balance the same as happens with Strawberry Rhubarb. Razzy-Barb is a combination of raspberries and rhubarb and again the flavour is strong but the seeds are greatly reduced. Children and those who don't like raspberry seeds were impressed. For us it is a great way to make those hard picked berries spread a bit thinner without losing the intense flavour.
As you look at the recipes you can see how we found lots of partners for rhubarb and one of the most unique is Vanilla Rhubarb which uses a real vanilla bean. It is smooth and delicate and makes a great addition to a snack of Cambozola cheese and a baguette or topped on a hot biscuit.
Talking to customers, one of their dislikes of rhubarb are the long fibres in their pie or hanging off the end of the spoon of jam. For me the trick is to follow what most recipes tell you - cut the rhubarb stalks across the grain and into 1-inch pieces. Make them no longer than that or even go shorter. If you cut across the fibres, there is no need to peel them so you keep the benefit of adding fibre to your diet. This made a difference for quite a few people who could not find what they see as the tell-tale indicator of rhubarb hiding in their jam.
Now we get to colour. I find the green stalks work perfectly in recipes where there are other strong colours - like blueberry and raspberry. They also mix well with the stronger red colour to give a balance of colour. However, when adding rhubarb to a lighter fruit or on its own, I prefer to increase the percentage of red stalks to keep the colour vibrant. It is remembering colour theory - if you mix red with green you get a muddy brown. So if you add green rhubarb to the soft red if strawberries you get a muddy colour. Food is art. As for flavour, I have found that they taste much the same - the colour is more for the eye. Even knowing all that, I think I will plant some rhubarb that is a beautiful burgandy to accompany my more common red and green rhubarb already out there.