Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

Andreae Prozesky hollers “rhubarb,” causes hubbub.

Far, far away in a land called Yorkshire, there grows rhubarb so sweet that it can be stewed without sugar and eaten for breakfast. Dedicated growers force the stalks in lightless sheds and harvest their crop by candlelight. The resulting rhubarb is tender, pink, and heavenly, untouched by sunlight, weeds or wind. The veal of the vegetable world, if you will.

If Yorkshire rhubarb is veal, Newfoundland rhubarb must be moose. There it goes, clambering through the rocky soil, braving the elements, occasionally busting through people’s backyard fences. No matter how you cook it, you can’t cover up the taste of wildness in it. Nor would you want to.

It’s prime rhubarb time here on the Eastern Avalon. I picked some up at Halliday’s last week. I was only going in for milk, but there, on the door, in black permanent marker on a bit of cardboard was the word “rhubarb,” which thrilled me to the point that I actually said—aloud, mind you—”Rhubarb? Effing bring it!” Seriously, I said “effing.” At Halliday’s. Because they had rhubarb. Such is my love of the stuff.

It’s the tartness, the wildness, the astringent feel on the tongue that I love about it. I was never one of those kids who went about chomping on rhubarb stalks as though they were celery, although there is a possibility that I may have worn giant rhubarb leaves as sunhats at some point in my youth (they’re poisonous, by the way, but I guess that didn’t bother me). Any rhubarb I ate as a child was tempered with strawberries and sugar and baked in a pie. I’m quite sure I remember a friend of my mother’s making rhubarb pie with raspberry Jell-O. I’m quite sure I was wildly impressed by that (I still kind of am.) But now that some kind of maturity has set in, I’m ready for my rhubarb to really be rhubarb; the sugar should play off the tartness, draw it out, rather than try to fight with it.

There is very little I can tell you about rhubarb that you won’t find on the most complete website ever devoted to a single ingredient, The Rhubarb Compendium (www.­rhubarbinfo.com). They’ve got all the information you’ll need if you’re looking to start your own small rhubarb-growing empire. You want recipes? Oh, they’ve got recipes, from the standard “rhubarb cobblers, crisps, fools, crunches, and crumbles” and “rhubarb jam, jellies, conserves, preserves and marmalades” to more unusual selections like “rhubarb puddings, yogurts, sorbet, trifle and frozen deserts” and “rhubarb drinks, other than wine.” Particularly intriguing is the category called “Star Trek recipes with Rhubarb, coming soon.”

I’ll have to keep my eye out for that one.

In the meantime, my plan is to transform a bunch of rhubarb into a good-sized jar of chutney. Then I will proceed to eat said rhubarb chutney on crackers with some cheese. Close friends and loved ones are probably sick to death by now of my going on about the perfect marriage of chutney and cheese, but shag ‘em. Chutney and cheese is good food. Rhubarb is an excellent chutney fruit (okay, vegetable) because it’s assertive enough to stand up to a good dose of spiciness, and it can suck up the requisite amount of sugar without entering the realm of the cloying and the toothachy. The folks behind The Rhubarb Compendium have a half-dozen rhubarb chutney recipes, but I’ve fine-tuned my own just for you (well, and for me, let’s be honest here).

Anything else you might eat chutney with—roast chicken, pork, a big feed of Indian food—would be all the more delicious for the addition of a little rhubarb, don’t you think? Baked Camembert with rhubarb chutney? Chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and rhubarb chutney? Grilled eggplant, tofu and sprout sandwich with rhubarb chutney? Spinach salad with rhubarb chutney vinaigrette?

Perhaps I would even go so far as to suggest you try a bit of fence-busting, wild-clambering moose with rhubarb chutney. Seems like a natural pairing to me.

Rhubarb chutney

(Whenever I’ve made this before I’ve used apples, but when I was at the grocery store the peaches smelled so good, I thought it would only be fair to give them a try. Worked like a charm.)

2 cups rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustardseeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 peaches, peeled and chopped

Combine all ingredients except peaches in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Add peaches and cook another 30-40 minutes, until mixture has thickened.

Makes 2 cups. Refrigerate and use within two weeks or so. Also freezes well.

Send your questions, comments, and stalky suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca