Today we harvested our first stalks of rhubarb this season. Coming in at six stalks it made a nice compact handful. We’ve got 3 rhubarb crowns and one seems to be slightly ahead of the others so all the stalks came off the one plant.
Over the last few seasons we’ve had mixed cropping results – in the first few years after they were properly established we got a pretty good crop and then a couple of years ago they started to bolt very early in the season. We would get curious but quite attractive flowering rhubarb stems but very little worth harvesting and the flower stems are hollow so no good for the pot. It seems that letting them flower or bolt reduces the crop. This year we could see the same thing was going to happen again so after some searching in gardening books (most of which simply didn’t even seem to recognise the problem) we found some advice in a wonderful old book (The New Illustrated Gardening Encyclopaedia by Richard Suddell, from the 1940’s I believe, its full of lovely pen and ink illustrations) which said the flower buds should be removed as soon as they appear at ground level. So we’ve done that and it seems to have worked so far; I’m hoping for a better crop this year.
I really love rhubarb, its such a wonderful part of the British seasonal kitchen, it can be refreshing and light or warming with a tang depending on how its prepared. For this first batch I decided simple was best and just cooked the cut up stems briefly in a small amount of water with a little sugar added until they became soft but still held some shape. So now there is enough lightly cooked rhubarb to last me this week, for adding to breakfast muesli or making a quick desert with Greek yoghurt. I’m looking forward to its refreshing tang and starting to think of some different recipes to try when the next batch comes through. I might even decide to force one crown next winter to extend the season and make me feel revitalised by the onset of spring a little sooner.