If you have ever inherited an allotment or veg patch, chances are you have got a rhubarb plant or two in with the bargain. It is among the least fussy vegetables, often merrily proliferating year after year for the most neglectful of gardeners, and making a show of verdant life when everything else is looking a bit muddy and twiggy.
Being a perennial plant, the management of rhubarb is somewhat easier than with many crops for us here on the farm. The cycle starts when we plant the year-old crowns (the rootstock the plant dies back to at the end of its growing season) in March. In their second year we take only a very light crop so the plants get a chance to establish themselves, followed by years three to five when they are up and running, giving us a good pick from April to July. By the sixth year the crop is fair, but the perennial weeds such as couch grass and docks tend to be getting the upper hand, so that’s when we clear the whole lot out and start again. It’s hard not to be impressed by the tenacity of couch grass however – sometimes its tentacles get right into the crevices of the rhubarb crowns, hitching a ride to the next field if the crown is getting replanted.
When it comes to cooking with rhubarb, there is no need to limit your thinking to crumble. Its tart flavour makes it a surprisingly tasty accompaniment to oily fish and pork; try our rhubarb butter sauce recipe and you won’t look at it this not-so-humble veg the same way again. If you are more of a traditionalist, try the rhubarb and strawberry crumble, which brings out new levels of flavour from both of its star ingredients. You can find these and many more rhubarb recipes on our website.
We are often asked if rhubarb needs to be peeled, so here’s the rule, courtesy of Ben in the Field Kitchen. Snap a bit of the stalk off at one end; if the skin remains attached on one side and will come off down the stalk with a gentle pull, then peel the whole thing. If it snaps cleanly, no peeling required.
P.S. It’s business as usual for us over Easter, so expect your box delivery on your normal day