Pro tip: If you ever want to get into conversations with strangers just walk around the streets of Folkestone carrying an armful of rhubarb and wait for the questions. “Is that rhubarb?” “Where did you get all that?” “What are you doing with that?” One man even pulled his car up beside me, rolled down his window and queried “Rhubarb?” before driving off with a look of satisfaction once I had confirmed that yes, it was indeed rhubarb.
Our allotment already had an established rhubarb plant when we took it over a few months ago, although it had been harvested at the time so there wasn’t anything to take. While our backs were turned digging, weeding, planting and doing everything else the rhubarb was romping away in the corner.
Allotment guru Pat showed us the correct way of harvesting rhubarb stalks – press the top of the stalk base in with your thumb, then twist, and pull it away.
So, what is the rhubarb for? One of the things we have discussed at Cantiaci is hosting a communal ‘pay what you feel’ meal where we can get people of the town together to enjoy a feast using as much home-grown and local produce as possible. I decided that I’d make up a rhubarb cordial with the rhubarb, that way we can serve it as a drink at the meal.
I used this rhubarb cordial recipe to make the Cantiaci cordial. Once the leaves had been removed (these are poisonous) and the stalks cleaned and chopped I had 1.5kg of rhubarb, so I mixed it with 150ml cold water (100ml for every kg) and some chopped ginger. It was then boiled until the rhubarb was completely soft, then strained through a clean teatowel (my muslin seems to have gone walkabouts!) You can buy special stands for making jam and cordials but I simply hung the teatowel from my kitchen cupboard handle and left it overnight.
I put a sieve on top of the jug I was collecting the strained juice in for a few reasons. Firstly I didn’t want bugs flying into it, and secondly I found that as I was using the ladle to transfer the gooey rhubarb mixture I was losing bits over the side and they were dropping into the jug of strained cordial. The sieve meant none of the stringy bits fell in so my cordial remained clear. Hurrah!
The next day I had about a litre of pure rhubarb cordial, currently unsweetened. You need to know how much liquid you have before you add the sugar. For one litre you need 500g of sugar, so pour the strained rhubarb back into a pan with the sugar and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
It’s finished and delicious but I think next time I will add more ginger and grate it instead of chopping it because frankly you can never have too much ginger. I could, of course, make up some separate ginger syrup and add to it, if I wanted to.
Leftover rhubarb pulp
Well. After all that delicious cordial I found myself left with an unappetising colourless slurry of pulped rhubarb. It smelt great though, and I could still taste the rhubarb in it, so I didn’t want to waste it. I researched uses for leftover rhubarb pulp and found that the main thing people did was make a fruit leather (rhubarb leather recipe here). I didn’t fancy having the oven on for 8 hours so I didn’t really want to do that, but l found a recipe for muffins that the exact amount of rhubarb pulp I happened to have leftover (about 2 cups) from my cordial.
Recipe: rhubarb and ginger crumble muffins
The recipe I used was based on this one but I made changes based on what I had and didn’t have to hand. I didn’t have buttermilk so I used the milk/lemon cheat instead, I didn’t have baking soda so used extra baking powder (and removed the salt as this can affect rising). I used ginger instead of cinnamon as my rhubarb pulp already had a gingery taste, and I was more generous with the spice to counteract the taste of the additional baking powder. I also decided to make it a crumble muffin by sprinkling on a mixture of oats and brown sugar for a crunchy topping just before baking.
Makes: 24 muffins
Baking time: 40 minutes
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
- 1/2 cup oil (as I was using allotment-grown rhubarb and an egg from the family chickens I opted for British rapeseed oil to keep it local)
- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup porridge oats
- 2 tsp powdered ginger
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups cooked rhubarb pulp (leftover from cordial)
- Optional: handful extra oats and brown sugar for topping
Whisk together the oil, egg and buttermilk (or milk and lemon).
Mix the flour, oats, ginger and baking powder, then add the oil and milk mixture to the dry.
Fold in the rhubarb pulp until combined.
Line a muffin tin with paper cases, fill with the mixture and sprinkle on the extra oats and brown sugar, if you want a crispy crumble topping.
Bake at about 200c for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. This made 24 muffins so I had to do it in two batches.
Tip: don’t go off to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones when you put your muffins in the oven, you WILL forget about them. Like I did with my second batch, which ended up slightly blackened…sorry muffins. They still tasted good though, once I chipped off the blackened crumble topping.
I liked the muffins, they were very easy to make and used up an ingredient that might otherwise have ended up in the compost bin (food waste is terrible!) They didn’t rise very much so I think I’d like to try these with self raising flour next time. They had a firm outer layer but they were soft inside and had a slightly creamy texture. Great washed down with a glass of rhubarb cordial!
I had a pile of leaves leftover from the rhubarb and you can make an organic pesticide from them, which I considered doing, but as you need to have entirely separate utensils and you can’t use it on food crops I didn’t think there was much point in me doing it as I wouldn’t be able to use it at the allotment, and I didn’t have a non-food pan. If you’re interested you can find out how to make it here.