SOME people don't care for rhubarb but I cannot count myself among their number.
The sharp acid tang of poached, stewed or compote of rhubarb (as far as I can tell they are all the same thing) appeals to my tastebuds (but I am also addicted to lemon juice which I add to as many recipes as I can get away with).
There is a danger of adding too much sugar; I started out using twice as much as I now use and my tastebuds have adjusted to the bite; if I order it in a restaurant I often find it too sweet.
I quite like cutting back the sugar and then serving a few stalks alongside a tiny serve of a rich, sweet dessert such as a creme caramel, creme brulee or pannacotta.
Treats such as those are best eaten only occasionally but they are so delicious you only need a small helping.
Rhubarb is easy to grow although it takes up quite a bit of space in the garden if it is robust enough.
Aptly named a gross feeder, a single crown will keep producing year after year as long as you feed it heavily, preferably with rotted manure, and protect it from winter frosts.
Even if frost does claim the plant, the crown can still recover in the majority of cases.
You can also grow rhubarb in a greenhouse with great success.
I have frustratingly had my scarlet crowns turn green for no apparent reason time after time; it doesn't affect the flavour but green rhubarb after cooking looks like nothing you'd want to put in your mouth - trust me on that.
If your crowns turn colour, you may want to add a drop or three of cochineal to the recipe if you are serving to guests.
The leaves of rhubarb are highly toxic; full of oxalic acid among other substances.
It is still safe, however, to add rhubarb leaves to well-managed compost heaps as the composting process breaks down the toxic compounds quite quickly.
You can also make an effective organic bug spray for the garden by boiling the leaves for an hour in a large saucepan.
Strain off the liquid and add a teaspoon of washing-up liquid to it; place in a spray bottle.
Spray the garden at dusk so bees are not affected. It will kill most common garden pests.
Be sure to properly label the spray bottle and discard leftover spray after a week.
Baked rhubarb with orange and vanilla
500g rhubarb stalks
1 large or 2 small oranges
½ tspn vanilla paste
2 tblspn raw sugar
Preheat oven to 160°C.
Wash rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm lengths. Place in a casserole dish.
Wash orange well and remove zest with a zester. Set aside a few strands of zest for garnish.
Squeeze juice from orange; you need around half a cup of juice. Stir in zest, vanilla paste and sugar.
Pour liquid over rhubarb and toss so each piece is covered.
Cover with a lid and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until rhubarb is tender.
Serve warm, garnished with reserved zest and with a little of the cooking juice poured over each helping.
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