James Whelan Butchers: Rhubarb, Rhubarb

I’ve been doubly blessed this week by two different people who both gave me a bunch of home grown rhubarb. I was thrilled; my rhubarb cup was truly running over. There was far too much for me and I couldn’t find anyone else at the time to share it with, so I took it all home and sat in the kitchen admiring the over abundant pile sitting on the worktop. It also made me smile as I remembered asking another foodie friend some years ago what was the best thing to do with rhubarb. This culinary comic genius suggested that I eat it as it wasn’t much good for anything else!

Technically rhubarb is a vegetable but we tend to treat it as a fruit. There is forced rhubarb which is grown in dimly lit sheds all year round and then there is the garden or wild variety which, left to its own devices, springs up in summer. The reason there is such a glut of it around at present is that rhubarb is a lover of moisture. This particularly moist summer we have been experiencing is definitely contributing to rhubarb growth. Rhubarb

In its natural state stalks of rhubarb are sour to the taste and the leaves are to be avoided at all costs as they are poisonous. However mixed with a little sugar or a friendly orange, the sour is transformed into a nutritious iron and vitamin C rich bowl of goodness. Most of us would be familiar with a comforting rhubarb crumble, stewed rhubarb accompanied by custard or even rhubarb compote or jam. I would like to suggest that you try some new routes and match it with a more savoury partner such as a rich meat. If you think about it we don’t blink an eye at the thought of cranberry with turkey. I suggest you try a bit of rhubarb in its place. Try a little rhubarb chutney with duck or poultry in general and you will be surprised at the little dance it will do on your taste buds. It’s also a great accompaniment to a cheeseboard as a light tea or supper. It works well with cold meats and even burgers. New food combinations are always exciting even if they never end up on the ‘favourites’ list. In Scandinavian countries they even make soup out of it; both sweet and savoury.

We all know rhubarb works very well with custard but it is also a good match for vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and orange flavours. Poached gently in a little natural orange juice with a pinch of ginger or cinnamon adds an entirely new dimension. Personally I like stewed rhubarb, crumble or tart to retain a little crunchy bite rather than the baby food ‘gloop’ of a soggy wet pile, but “each to his own” and it really is a matter of taste and preference.

Rhubarb will also freeze well if you do it quickly and while it is fresh. Some people ‘do things’ with it before freezing so that it is ready as a tart or crumble filling but I basically wash it, cut it into chunks, lay it all out on a big tray and freeze it for a few hours before transferring it into zip lock freezer bags. There are plenty of websites with other methods of freezing rhubarb, but I find this one works quite well.

So what did I do with my glut of red stalks? I decided to make chutney as I had so much of it. Chutney is a great way of preserving and it has a long shelf life as long as it is kept in the right conditions. It makes a lovely unusual food gift also. I use a recipe from a small pickling and preserve book that I’ve had for years, but there is an abundance of chutney recipes available on the web. The trick is not to let it burn at the bottom while it is simmering away. It is also a good idea to have all your jars sterilised, cooled and ready to go before you start. 2lbs of rhubarb takes about an hour to cook and should yield around 6 jars.

Here’s a recipe I use that has a little kick to it, but I’m sure there are many variations that work just as well – Rhubarb Chutney Recipe.

This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to Pat@jwb.ie

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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