It’s meat free monday on the blog today and it’s also a bank holiday here in the UK so I’m using one of my favourite vegetables, rhubarb and serving up a delicious cocktail to keep us in the holiday mood. It’s now only a week before I have my smoothy maker back from storage and boy oh boy this is high up on the list of things to make in it. So here, homage to deliciously pink rhubarb.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a herbaceous perennial. There are several varieties that have been domesticated for culinary purposes (Rheum hybridum), where the beautiful green, to speckled pink to crimson red stalks are, of course, used. Although we tend to think of rhubarb as a fruit because it is most commonly used in puddings, it is, in fact, classed as a vegetable everywhere except the United States. This is because in 1947, a New York court decreed that it was to be viewed as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties, because this was as a fruit that it was commonly used. This pleased importers because duties for fruit were cheaper than those for vegetables!
Rhubarb grows the year round in warmer climates but in temperate climates the leaves and stalks above ground wither away and die back with the onset of freezing weather and returns when it warms up again. Rhubarb can be acquired year round thanks to ‘forcing’ it in greenhouses/hothouses which produces redder, sweeter stalks in mid-late Spring (April/May) in the Northern Hemisphere, October/November in the Southern. You can force your own rhubarb to some degree by placing an upturned bucket over it. In the United Kingdom, the first harvest of the year is done by candlelight in otherwise darkened forcing sheds. The area around Wakefield, Leeds and Morley in Yorkshire is known as the Rhubarb Triangle.
The Chinese have used rhubarb for medicinal purposes for about 2700 years. It has been used as a strong laxative for at least 5,000 years and was used in European and Arabic prescriptions in the medieval era. It arrived in Europe in the 14th century via the Silk Route. It grew wild for centuries along the river Volga in Russia but was so expensive to import from Asia that it was a more expensive commodity than opium, cinnamon or saffron. Rhubarb was prized so highly at that time that it was mentioned in the same breath as diamonds, rubies, pearls, musk, silk and satin – just think, a vegetable that you can grow easily in the corner of your garden! It was actually only in the 17th century, when sugar became more affordable, that it was used to cook with, prior to that the root was used to produce a rich brown dye.
- 500g diced rhubarb
- 120ml water
- 100g caster sugar
- 4 cupfuls ice
- 150ml tequila