Culinary Anthropologist

Secret Kitchen, 15th June 2013: Rhubarb, rhubarb

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rhubarb stems.JPGrhubarb, rhubarb

Rhubarb gimlet
Speltcakes with St Eadburgha and pickled rhubarb

Lamb köfte with labneh and
raw rhubarb, cucumber & radish salad

Grilled mackerel with beetroot and rhubarb,
summer leaves and new potatoes

Rhubarb & strawberry crumble with
lemon verbena ice cream and elderflower fritters

Homemade liqueur

Rhubarb, rhubarb

Rhubarb originates from Mongolia.  The word was coined in medieval Latin and derives from ‘Rha’ (old name for the Volga river) and ‘barbarum’ (foreign) – ie a vegetable from the foreign lands east of the Volga.

Rhubarb was pronounced a ‘fruit’ in 1947 by confused US customs officials who opted to classify by its use in desserts rather than its botanical status.

But rhubarb as pudding, even as food, is a relatively recent concept.  For centuries it was used in China and elsewhere purely for medicinal purposes.  Rhubarb is a great laxative, if you eat enough.  It wasn’t until the 17th or 18th century that rhubarb became a food crop in England, reaching its peak of popularity in the ‘rhubarb boom’ between the 1st and 2nd world wars.  Being so tart, the easy availability of sugar was needed for rhubarb to catch on.

However delicious you find it, don’t eat more than a few tonnes as the stems are mildly poisonous.  The leaves contain more of the poison (oxalic acid and oxalate salts), but you’d need to eat 10lbs for them to be lethal.

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