Many people think of rhubarb as a fruit and as it is so frequently used in crumbles and pies this is not really surprising. It is actually a vegetable that is closely related to garden sorrel. Rhubarb originated more than two thousand years ago in Asia.
Rhubarb is a plant that grows from year to year from large fleshy rhizomes. It has very large leaves and long stalks, sometimes up to two feet tall and about two inches in diameter. In the United Kingdom we are lucky enough to have fresh rhubarb growing in our gardens from early spring right through to autumn.
Medicinal Properties and Poisonous Leaves
At first Rhubarb was grown for its potent medicinal properties. It is rich in dietary fiber and apparently good for constipation! It is also rich in vitamin C.
The leaves of the rhubarb plant grow very large, sometimes up to two feet across.This part of the plant is poisonous. It contains large amounts of oxalic acid crystals which can make you extremely unwell making the tongue and throat swell causing dangerous breathing problems. Only the stalks, the petioles, are edible. These also contain low levels of oxalates but this does not cause health problems.
Value as a Food
In Britain it was only in the 18th century that the value of rhubarb as a food was recognized. It is mainly used as a filling in pies and crumbles. Because of its bitter flavour it needs plenty of sugar to make it palatable. However, there are plenty of alternatives to sugar and one favourite is to mix the rhubarb with apricots and honey. Here is one recipe for rhubarb and apricot crumble.
Ingredients – serves four to six
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas No. 5
- 400 grams Rhubarb cut into half inch chunks
- 400 grams fresh apricots cut into small pieces with the stones removed. Tinned or dried apricots can also be used. Dried apricots must be rehydrated before use – Soak in hot water for two hours before use
- 3 teaspoons honey
- Grated rind of one orange
- Fresh nutmeg grated
To prepare the filling:
- Put the rhubarb and honey into a saucepan with just enough water to cover and cook the fruit gently until it is just beginning to soften
- Remove from heat and put the cooked fruit into an ovenproof dish
- Stir in the apricots and orange rind
- Add nutmeg to taste
Cooking the fruit first gives a nice contrast between the soft fruit and the crunchy crumble.
The crumble topping:
- 200 grams plain flour
- 50 grams porridge oats
- 120 grams butter or sunflower margerine
- 50 grams Demerara sugar – reserve a small amount for sprinkling on top of the crumble
To prepare the topping:
Rub together the flour, oats and fat until the mixture resembles bread crumbs – it works best when the fat is cold straight from the fridge
- Add the brown sugar – reserve some for sprinkling on top of the crumble mix
- Spread the crumble mix evenly over the cooked fruit
- Sprinkle the reserved sugar over the top
- Cook for approximately 30 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden brown
Allow to cool slightly before serving.
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