Rhubarb has a special place in the hearts of Britain from a Rhubarb Crumble to sticks of Rhubarb in Wartime and our very own Rhubarb Triangle. It also takes centre stage here at Bangers and Balls.
Now, sit back as I take you through the history of time on the journey of Rhubarb as we undercover candlelit sheds and wartime treats.
Back in 2017, Duncan invented his very own Rhubarb Hot Sauce at the famous Little’s Nans in Deptford. Armed with a glut of fresh rhubarb from Jack’s Farm in Canterbury and a need to preserve it before it went off, one of our favourite sauces was created.
As trains trundled over above our heads as we were behind the bar in the kitschy decorated Little Nan’s with a bust of Pat Butcher sat next to us overlooking proceedings. The Rhubarb Hot Sauce was created and customers were the first to taste-test its flavour. The excitement at watching their faces be part of something new that was being created right there is what we love about being able to be creative in the kitchen with a real-life community.
It wasn’t just the customers that loved it but also other bars who wanted it too, to create a truly different Bloody Mary as they added the Hot Sauce. It is mind-blowingly good! We sold it out to bars across London and in Whitstable and it was paired with Oysters. Bottles of it were posted out across the UK. However, it took us away from our real passion which is sharing how to source and find really good ingredients and experiment with them in the kitchen. Whether that is on a walk outside in nature or by cooking with something seasonal.
This is why this week we can’t wait to make our Rhubarb Hot Sauce in our membership community - The Kitchen Table Revolution. We remove the overwhelm and teach our fabulous community how to preserve one magical ingredient a week. We look forward to making it with you this Saturday if you are in there and if you aren't, why not? Go and join up right now.
Marco Polo gets the Gold Star for bringing Rhubarb to Europe in the thirteenth century when it was referred to as the Rhacoma Root. It wasn’t used in food at all in the UK but as a drug. It was so sought after that in 1657 it was seen as a drug and it could command three times the price of Opium!
It wasn’t until 1817 that we started to use it as a food thanks to the Chelsea Physic Gardens when some roots were accidentally covered with soil in the depths of winter. When the soil was removed a few weeks later tender shoots were noticed! People couldn’t believe the flavour. I love it when you bite into a tart rhubarb - it dances on the taste buds with a combination of citrusy sweet fruit sourness of lines and lemons with an amazing tang!
A lot of people, due to its tartness, pair it with sweet ingredients like strawberries but it goes so well with fatty meat like pork. We made pork and rhubarb balls for our Rupert the Bear Supper Club in Faversham and people were blown away by the taste combination.
Did you know there are two types of Rhubarb? Forced Rhubarb which comes out in February and it has beautiful long pink stalks - perfect for valentines day. It has a mild and delicate flavour and is often called the champagne of rhubarb.
Then later in the year, we get to the maincrop rhubarb which has a magenta colour with bright green leaves with a more intense flavour and crunchy texture. I love both of them!
Now, you have heard of the Bermuda triangle but have you heard of the Yorkshire Triangle?
Nothing goes missing there but ridiculously tasty rhubarb is grown. The Rhubarb Triangle goes from Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford and is the centre for the world’s production of forced Rhubarb. It sits in the shadows of the Pennies which is a frost pocket.
Yorkshire was the first place in the world where special sheds were put up to grow rhubarb out of season! Forced Rhubarb never gets the chance to develop the sourness of normal rhubarb. The plants grow so quickly in their desperation to find the light that you can actually hear them pop and crack as they stretch and grow. There is also the pop when the stems burst away from the root. I can only imagine how that sounds in those dark sheds. No light is shown to preserve the bright pink colour and they are harvested by candlelight which always feels very romantic! One day I will make it there hopefully to be there for the pop! I can only imagine it to sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies - snap, crackle and pop!
The producers were centralised between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, which became known worldwide as The Rhubarb Triangle, the centre for the world’s production of forced rhubarb. They used to leave on special trains known as Rhubarb Express trains where carriage after carriage would carry only rhubarb. It reads like something out of a storybook. One day I would love to do a supper club on the Rhubarb Express celebrating this humble vegetable.
Rhubarb was a staple of the British wartime diet and Yorkshire forced rhubarb became almost a national institution! The war also was its downfall. Like any celebrity at the top, it's hard to stay there, especially with its sharp flavour and lack of sugar. Wartime children turned their back on it as they had been made to eat so much of it! Can you imagine being a child and being given sticks of rhubarb and a bag of sugar as a substitute for your sweet ration? I have a rather romantic picture of this idea.
After the war, new tropical fruits like bananas took centre stage and there were gluts of rhubarb and many rhubarb producers went bankrupt. However, we believe it deserves a place on your kitchen table and now is the second chance you get this year as the maincrop is out.
I can’t tell you how much I love it roasted with asparagus - it is the most brilliant pairing, syrups from rhubarb are fabulous as it adds another flavour dimension to those long summer cocktails and it is so good on a BBQ. Get out there and get experimenting and enjoy this brilliant vegetable. If you want to get your hands on our Rhubarb Hot Sauce recipe see you inside the Kitchen Table Revolution where you are sworn to secrecy as we pass this recipe on to you.
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