When I was a kid we had a stick of rhubarb and a bowl of sugar for a treat. It was dab, bite, wince, smile as the sourness of the rhubarb invaded your mouth, relieved by the sweetness of the sugar. I’ve tried this on following generations and they’re not having it. Perhaps pleasures were simpler then. My parents might also have been ensuring we were ‘regular’ on our bulky Fifties diet as rhubarb is a laxative.
I can dimly remember fragments of a playground chant about being hitting on the head with a rhubarb stick while rhubarb and custard was a teatime staple.
Since then I’ve always had a love for rhubarb, for culinary and medical reasons. Not just in crumbles: I love it cold with yoghurt or with my granola. It can be a bugger to cook. Take your eye off the ball and it becomes a puree although that’s not a disaster. Stir it into your yoghurt. I find the best way is to do it gently on the stove in a single layer in a pan, sprinkled with sugar and a little orange juice and sliced fresh ginger, with a greaseproof paper ‘cap’ pressed down to help it steam.
It’s only lately that I’ve started pickling it. You can pickle almost everything, and I have done over the years, but had never thought of pickling rhubarb (although I once made a rhubarb chutney which took years to become edible) until I saw a picture on Twitter. It’s recommended to pair with oily fish but I’ve found it works equally well with cheese and meat.
What’s even better is that there is no ‘cooking’ involved, apart from heating up the pickling solution. It can be done in minutes.
The rhubarb is crisp while the chilli and ginger gives it zing. Strange as it may seem, the phrase ‘palate cleanser’ comes to mind when I eat it. My recipe promised results after two days but I reckon two to three weeks is needed to get the right amount of crunch and pickle. I expect it will soften over time but it’s the crunch you want.
I’ve nicked this recipe from Valeria (www.mylifelovefood.com) found on the Daily Telegraph. Note: I did not have any dried chilli so used a bit of fresh. The quantity given might make the pickle too hot for some (and me) so cut it down if you like.
500g rhubarb (4 large stalks)
2 tsp peppercorns
½ tsp cloves
1 tbsp sliced fresh ginger
3 bay leaves
2 dry red chillies
250ml cider vinegar
200g caster sugar
½ tsp fine grain salt
Sterilise two one pint jars. Rinse rhubarb and cut into 2cm long pieces. Pack them into the two jars. Divide the spices between the two jars.
In a saucepan, combine the cider vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil to dissolve. As soon as the pickling liquid is boiling pour it into the jars until the liquid covers the rhubarb pieces. Close immediately with the sterilised lids. Cool.
The recipe advises storing in the fridge but we’re pickling so it’s not needed. Best to do so when you open the jar, though.
COOK’S TIP: Make sure your stalks are all of similar width.