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Rhubarb an old-fashioned favourite


Rhubarb(copy)These articles have probably made it quite clear that I love the Saturday market in the Village and as a market it is becoming better and better.

“Where did you buy that?” Box will say and before I can answer he rolls his eyes and says “The market , of course!” An added benefit to the market is meeting up with a group of friends once we are exhausted with the stalls and having a cup of coffee.

“It’s my Christmas article this week,” I said to them on Saturday. “I have written about pohutukawas, geraniums and all things red. What would be interesting for this year?”

“Rhubarb and raspberries,” said Maureen. “I have decided to serve rhubarb and raspberries for breakfast Christmas morning because my rhubarb is so lush and I have a great recipe combining it with raspberries.” [See Maureen’s rhubarb in the accompanying photo.]

Rhubarb has been around for thousands of years. The Chinese used it medicinally as a laxative. From China the plants spread through to Europe, Russia and to England where the rhubarb as we know it was grown and cultivated. In the 1800’s it spread to America where it changed from being a vegetable to a fruit [it was taxed as a vegetable but not as a fruit.]

Rhubarb grows from short thick rhizomes or crowns or ‘budded pieces’. They can be grown from seed but that takes longer before the stalks are ready to be picked. They love to be planted in rich organic soil and if the preparation is good, rhubarb will just keep growing even when neglected. I had a great crop growing here at the cottages which had to be moved for the drive. I divided it up and moved it to the block where the divisions have languished most of the year and are only now showing signs of life. I thought I had lost them but no, rhubarb is very resilient and grows with very little care. Feed it, nourish it and it will reward you by flourishing.

Newly planted rhubarb crowns take a year to become established enough to pick and can remain productive for up to 10 years. They like a moist well drained soil with sun for most of the day. When the stalks die back mulch around the crown to keep the plant moist and weed free. The crown should be visible to avoid crown rot. Pick the stalks with a sharp knife or by a sharp twist and pull. Discard the leaves which contain toxins [mainly oxalic acid] so should not be eaten.

Our climate is a bit too warm here to successfully grow raspberries although Maureen says she grew some in Hawkes Bay. I went raspberry picking near Nelson in my youth and have retained a love for raspberries ever since. The real thing is so different from the vile red fizzy drink. The lower areas of the garden at the Block can be quite cool and I am very tempted to try them.
Here is Maureen’s recipe for Christmas morning.

Rhubarb and Raspberry Breakfast Pots

250gm rhubarb, cut into 1cm lengths
1/3 cup brown sugar, maple syrup, agave or honey
½ vanilla pod
Finely grated rind of one orange
2 tsp orange juice
1 punnet fresh raspberries
1 cup natural Greek yoghurt
½ cup toasted muesli or nuts

Place rhubarb, sugar, vanilla pod, orange zest and juice in the top of a double boiler. Cover and cook/simmer for 20 minutes until rhubarb is soft. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Fold through raspberries. Cool.

To serve, spoon rhubarb and raspberry mixture into glass dishes, pots or jars, and top with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Sprinkle with muesli/nuts. Garnish with extra berries.

Makes 6 half cups

Note: My sister Heather Ann says strawberries are a delicious substitute if no raspberries are available. I also think plums would be good.


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