Growing rhubarb

by Adam Pasco

Putting bread and butter pudding to one side, I have two favourite puddings made with supplies from my garden - gooseberry fool and rhubarb crumble.

Adam Pasco planting rhubarb seedlingsWhat's your favourite dessert? Putting bread and butter pudding to one side, I have two favourite puddings made with supplies from my garden – gooseberry fool and rhubarb crumble. While I'll have to wait a few months for gooseberries, the rhubarb season has arrived.

An established clump covered with a terracotta forcing jar has come good again, as it does every year without much attention at all. I know it's ready when the little terracotta lid is lifted high atop rhubarb leaves pushing through the tiny hole.

Delving my hand deeply through the gap I can grasp thick pink stems, removing them easily with a sharp tug. I think the variety is either 'Stockbridge Arrow' or 'Early Champagne', but can't remember which.

But please don't think there's only one rhubarb. The varied collections at RHS gardens at Harlow Carr and Wisley hold dozens of rhubarb varieties, but very few are offered for sale.

Named varieties are usually sold as dormant root divisions, and occasionally these are potted and sold as growing plants. Last year I planted some seedling rhubarb plants from an organic veg plant supplier, but seedlings were only available of the popular 'Victoria'.

We expect a lot from our rhubarb, so it's important to dig plenty of rich organic compost into the soil before planting. I crammed three plants into the end of one of my deep beds, where it can be left undisturbed to flourish. A deep compost mulch and regular watering during last summer's drought got it well established. However, this spring two of the plants produced flower spikes, and these were immediately cut away at their base to stop them weakening the clumps.

I did not cover these new plants with forcing jars, and won't pick any stems in this first full year. However, next spring I'll taste a few.

Rhubarb is one of the first crops I can enjoy from the garden each year, and well worth finding space for. With crumble and fool on the menu I'm going to skip starters and main course and go straight to dessert this week. All recipes gratefully received.

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Gardeners' World Web User 18/04/2011 at 16:39

my rhubarb keeps flowering. Is this a problem?

Gardeners' World Web User 18/04/2011 at 16:47

Make a biscuit base by crushing 8 digestive biscuits with a little melted butter. Stew 1 kilo of rhubarb with 1 mixer can of ginger ale/beer (5 fluid oz I think). Once stewed, add a whole raspberry jelly mix and stir in. Once cooled, pour it onto the biscuit base and leave to set. Strangely it doesnt taste of ginger or rhubarb much really, but it is gorgeous.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/04/2011 at 17:59

Ginger does go well with rhubarb. I usually mix a teaspoon of ground ginger into the crumble mix, but I have had it with crystallised ginger mixed with the rhubarb itself. My sweet this evening was a pancake stuffed with plums from the freezer. The plum blossom up the garden has all dropped and the little plums are visible. When I saw what a huge crop is promised I took out one of my boxes of plums pronto to use. There's nothing like the sight of the new crop coming to persuade you to eat the old. The strawberry plants are covered with flowers like last year so I am looking forward to a month of strawberries with my breakfast, lunch and supper. I bet rhubarb stuffed pancakes are delicious as well, Adam.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/04/2011 at 22:10

Lovely recipe ideas. I like my pancakes with lemon and sugar, but you've now got me thinking happymarion, and perhaps I should be more adventurous. And yes, the fine weather at plum blossom time will hopefully mean a good crop. And now my apples are in full blossom too! It could be a fruitful year ahead.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/04/2011 at 11:42

sadly I have had to give my allotment up this year but have brought some rhubarb home with me to grow in the garden.I can not imagine not having my own home grown rhubarb and strawberrys.I too like the recipe ideas and will give them a try.

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