Ah, rhubarb, another immigrant that made its tortuous way from Siberia, Mongolia or Northern China, or some such far-flung spot, no one seems to know, to Britain, where it was first registered 1578 by one Henry Lyte, translator and adapter of Rembert Dodoen’s perennial bestseller, Niewe Herball. Enough of history. I suspect we love rhubarb because it comes at the time of the year where there’s precious little else in terms of fruit and veg to love. Rhubarb arrives during the dead season for most of our natural culinary glories, Whether forced in the Rhubarb Triangle of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield (as recognised as PDO by the EU – another treasure that presumably we’ll lose because of Brexit), where it was once in horse manure and wool waste, the by-product of local industry, or grown under a pot as by me, it’s the first fruit of the new season, and all the more welcome for it. It holds out promise of things to come. And there’s something exotic about the long, elegantly pink stems, and the curl of poisonous leaves at the top.
And so it’s rhubarb crumble and rhubarb fool and rhubarb jam and rhubarb chutney and rhubarb pie, rhubarb cake, rhubarb vodka, rhubarb ice, rhubarb sorbet, rhubarb this, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb that until you’re sick of the sight of the stuff, and yet it still keeps coming. So I’ve tried pickling it. I’m making no great claims for it, although I’m quietly proud of the results. It can be fished out to go with a pork pie or cold chicken or hot fish or curry or whatever you fancy, a reminder of the days when we had first sight of the first fruit of the year and were happy for it.
I think the pickling liquid should be quite light and sweetish as the rhubarb is delicate and very sharp naturally
1 thumb of fresh ginger
1 dsp allspice berries
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 tsp cloves
3 tsp vanilla essence
250 ml cider or rice vinegar
200 ml caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Slice the rhubarb into whatever shape you fancy and put them in a jar. I like mine in sticks about the width of a pencil and 4-5 cm long. Peel and slice the ginger. Put into a sauce pan along with the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, allspice berries and cardamom pods. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour over the rhubarb right away and the let the jar cool down before adding the vanilla essence. This may seem a little odd, but I like to add a vanilla pod to rhubarb when cooking it as it seems to have the quality of broadening out the flavour of the fruit (or I used to until vanilla pods suddenly became more valuable than caviar). Of course, you can vary the spices in any way you please.