The finer points of Rhabarbarum

This blog post is brought to you by the seven well fed mosquitos who bit my arm whilst I was dodging rain and storm in the vege garden…

Unripe black russian tomato, zuchinni, rhubarb
From the vege garden, unripe black Russian tomato, zucchini, rhubarb

Brief History of Rhubarb

  • Rheum palmatum is mentioned in records as early as 2,700 BC in China, where its roots were used as a laxative. It was so valued that its export from China was forbidden and the rest of the world had to make do with other laxatives.
  • It originated around Rha (I think that’s the river which became known as the Volga in Russia) the plant eventually became known as rhabarbarum (rha – the river, barbarum – barbarian, make of that what you will (or maybe foreigner)).
  • It made its way to Europe in Islamic times, along the Silk Road around the 14thC. It was more expensive than cinnamon, opium and saffron.
  • In 1778 rhubarb as we know it today (ie the stems in my pic) was being used as a food in Europe in pies and tarts.

Rhubarb in the 17th Century

  • They used the root (stems weren’t used until later on)
  • The root is chunky and woody, kinda like celeriac, but rootier.

What did Scappi think?

  • Scappi only mentions rhubarb root a couple of times in his opera
  • And it only gets one recipe…


To Prepare a thick soup of rhubarb roots

When the roots are washed, bring them to a boil in water, from which you take them out to put them into cold water. They are cooked whole like that in chicken or veal broth. you can thicken the broth with fresh egg yolks and verjuice, following the directions set out for lettuce ribs. If you want to beat them with a knife before putting them into the broth that is possible.

Delicious though that sounds I’m going a nice compote with my rhubarb stems…

Rhubarb Compote by Tory

  • 300g fresh rhubarb roughly chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp orange blossom water

Combine all ingredients in large sauce pot.

Heat to medium-high and stir occasionally until rhubarb begins to break down completely.

If you put it in a sieve you can catch the juice and use it to flavour prosecco – if you’re feeling fancy… then use the rest with your morning yoghurt.