From pickles to cocktails and beyond... there's far more to rhubarb than a humble crumble
This year in the kitchens at Wisley we're using the garden’s home-grown rhubarb
from April till early June, though sometimes we receive it as early as the first week of March.
Before that, like many kitchens that pride themselves on serving British food, we take pleasure in using forced rhubarb from Yorkshire’s famous ‘rhubarb triangle’.
Forced rhubarb, which is grown in sheds, is an almost-luminous pale pink whereas outdoor-grown rhubarb is deep crimson in colour (depending on the cultivar). But that, of course, is when it’s raw and unpeeled. On cooking, rhubarb tends to turn khaki or greeny-brown, particularly if you cook it until very soft.
If you find the colour of cooked rhubarb a little dull, this is when a bottle of grenadine comes in handy! This non-alcoholic pomegranate syrup, used to great effect in cocktails such as Tequila Sunrise, ensures the rhubarb remains pink on cooking. You only need a splash of it, and because it’s a syrup, you won’t need to add as much sugar as usual. Alternatively, add a little pomegranate juice to the pan.
When I’m poaching rhubarb with grenadine, I like to add a couple of split vanilla pods, but you could also used some diced stem or crystallised ginger if you have any still lying around from Christmas. Orange zest works well too.
Over the years, we’ve developed many uses for Wisley rhubarb and will be bringing out the favourites for garden visitors again this year, including rhubarb lemonade, rhubarb crumble tart and rhubarb cheesecake.
In a pickle
We deal with vast quantities by making preserves, just like keen vegetable gardeners do at home. Stocks of rhubarb compote, chutney and pickles are then on hand to serve as we like in the months to come.
During spring, our salad of confit duck with pickled rhubarb will be on the menu in the Dining Room once more. This recipe is a great example of how well rhubarb works with rich, fatty meats and fish – don’t hesitate to try it alongside roast pork or smoked mackerel at home.
I suspect, however, that the hit rhubarb recipe at Wisley this year will be our new rhubarb doughnut. We are taking our all-butter brioche dough and stuffing it with rhubarb compote and custard. Rather than deep frying, we are cooking the doughnuts in a special doughnut toaster. They will be finished with a dip in sugar syrup and a dusting of cinnamon sugar.
Sound scrumptious? Do drop by the Food Hall to try them on your visits to RHS Garden Wisley this spring. We look forward to welcoming you.