I have a very small London garden and tend to grow vertical crops, such as peas and beans, to make the most of the limited space. They love to be picked, rewarding each harvesting with multiple new shoots, ensuring a perpetual supply of produce throughout the season. Previously, I have made the mistake of growing cabbages and cauliflowers, and found that not only does this encourage the local slug population to consume their five a day, but also, once harvested that’s it…they’re gone.
At the very end of autumn three years ago, I visited a local nursery and, as is my wont, I made straight to the cut price ‘sad and unwanted’ rack of sickly plants; the challenge of reviving these little waifs always appeals to me.
On this occasion, I was attracted to a tiny, wilted rhubarb plant. Consisting of just four yellowing leaves, it seemed wildly optimistic to think it could survive, let alone thrive, but I took it home and embedded it in rich, loamy soil, in a sunny but sheltered spot, and vowed to take care of it. A week later, the yellowing leaves had turned to brown slime, which the earth quickly absorbed, and my little plant went to rhubarb heaven.
A hard winter followed with heavy frosts and snowfall, but eventually, the sparkling white faces of snowdrops emerged and in no time at all, spring was in full force. It was time to dig and decide what to sow, but I noticed a considerable crack in the cold soil. Not unusual perhaps, given the weather we’d had, but it was quite deep and on inspection, it was clear to see the cause; a mass of small, golden, furled leaves were heaving their way through the earth, to seek warmth light and within a couple of weeks, a crown of vivid pink rhubarb had emerged, like a phoenix from the flames.
A gardener must always have faith in Mother Nature, so I offered her my humble apologies and have been the recipient of a magnificent crop of rhubarb ever since; all I have to do is pick and cook it, as it is entirely self-sufficient.
So, even if you have limited or no gardening experience, or simply want the low-maintenance option, I urge you to grow rhubarb. It is easy to cook and incredibly delicious and for those not blessed with a growing space, is available to buy until the end of summer. Happy cooking!
Rose and rhubarb knickerbocker glory (aka rhubarb ice cream sundae)
300g pink rhubarb, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp rose water
2 tbsp golden caster sugar, or to taste
6 tbsp Greek yoghurt
6 tbsp ready-made custard
Drop of vanilla extract
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
Edible pink rose petals
- Heat the oven to 200⁰C/gas mark 6.
- Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm lengths and place them in a small roasting tin. Pour over the rose water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, or until tender but still just holding its shape. Remove the rhubarb to a plate, using a slotted spoon, and allow to cool completely. Reserve the syrupy juices.
- Put the yoghurt and custard into a small bowl and stir in the vanilla. Add the rhubarb juices and swirl lightly with a spoon, to create a marbled effect.
- To assemble, place a scoop of ice cream into each of 4 sundae glasses. Spoon some of custard mixture over the ice cream and top with a little of the baked rhubarb. Repeat the layers, finishing with a spoonful of rhubarb. Decorate with rose petals and serve.