Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Rhubarb and Asparagus ..


Dear Mr Postman .. thank you for dropping by again .. this is the time of year for spring delights, which my mother and I have always thoroughly enjoyed .. she was an excellent gardener and cook .. so we’d have forced rhubarb before leaving the plant to crop for later on; the early rhubarb would be followed by asparagus .. the season, which is short anyway – six weeks – stretches into early – mid June. I seem to remember the asparagus beds needing to be extended .. as we were rather partial to it! I thought I'd find out a little background to the crops, which my mother will find interesting and we can chat about rhubarb crumble, rhubarb fool .. and asparagus with oodles of melting butter ....

Rhubarb is one of the earliest fruits available .. the Victorians originally brought it over from Siberia so that fresh produce could be put on the table at a time when nothing else fresh was available. Rhubarb had however been around much longer – in ancient times it was revered for its mysterious cathartic powers, while the Romans, who bought the dried roots from the north Asiatic caravan traders supplied the apothecaries and herbalists with a root considered of value for various ailments.

Each winter - rhubarb flourishes in Yorkshire’s cold damp soils and is then tricked into triggering growth –being transferred by hand into long dark nursery sheds to be ‘forced’. The stalks grow at an accelerated rate in the light-free hothouses (originally heated by the coal from the new coal fields of the 1800s) – they are harvested by candlelight!! as the dim light will not spoil the conditions .. light and heat within the sheds.

The harvested stalks are tender, sweet, and a distinctive bright pink in colour with tiny curled yellow leaves that makes forced rhubarb instantly recognisable. Now-a-days –the Yorkshire triangle of Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield produce this champagne rhubarb, as it is known.

While it is also being promoted as a good accompaniment to high-fat meats, such as duck, and to oily fish .. – it is also a taste of today ... as its sharpness makes it an ideal companion as a savoury ingredient, people are developing a taste for the sharper flavoured fruits such as cranberries, blueberries and fresh pink rhubarb.

Asparagus has over the years had many elaborate growing instructions given out .. trenching, dressing with salt and seaweed .. not sure what we did 30 miles to the west of London! However we too followed the experts and made raised beds and made sure the earth was raised in mounds over the roots. We also gathered wild asparagus on our walks .. whenever we were lucky enough to come across a patch ... free food was a gift – even then.

Asparagus was appreciated by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans .. being used as a vegetable and medicine owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties.; it was eaten fresh in season and dried for use in winter. Apparently there’s a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes – Apicius’ 3rd century De re Coquinaria – book 3.

Asparagus is known today as not only tasting exceptionally good but is one of nature’s super foods ... helping fight cancer, heart disease as well as boosting your immune system .. and is really low in calories .. another secret benefit

Rhubarb festivals and Asparagus festivals abound in the English counties .. particularly in the Yorkshire triangle for the champagne rhubarb season.

Thank you for letting us have our letter - it's always so nice to see you .. we enjoy our memories together .. today it was about the early delights of the year .. I'm sure you too had rhubarb at home - did you have asparagus too?

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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14 comments:

Liara Covert said...

These savory delights remind us how Mother Nature blesses the culinary table. Rhubarb is known to be combined with different fruits in desserts and pies. Rhubarb quince plum and rhubarb field berry are popular combinations. The world may be going back to seasonal consumption of fruits and veggies. Transporting fruits and veggies from southern regions to northern destinations in winter may not always be possible. The world is changing and human beings are encouraged to adapt and evolve too.

Believe Achieve - Hugo and Roxanne said...

Hi Hilary,

I love the new layout of your blog! It's great!

Yummy! Asparagus! It's great with anything! I've had rhubarb pie before and remember enjoying it.

Thanks for sharing such delightful food facts!

Many Blessings....
Roxanne ~ Believe Achieve

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. many thanks for coming over again .. we are so lucky that we have so much available to us now-a-days .. I think of our garden - we practically grew everything .. we didn't have a cow!! ..

We are looking at our own small holders to provide our fruit and veg now .. though I do like New Zealand butter - actually & Cornish butter.

I buy local and we are changing .. it's just great that I can write these posts about things my mother would love and can discuss them with her when she's back to normal ..

You make me want a nice fruit tart .. but it's bedtime .. !!

Thanks for visiting .. all the best for a good day tomorrow ..
Hilary Mleton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hugo and Roxanne .. thanks for the compliment .. sheer luck, if anything!! still I prefer the larger size ..

I too love asparagus .. and am longing to get out to the farm to buy some .. but with Mum in hospital .. I'm a little stuck - I don't want to drive an hour away .. these farmers do game in the winter .. so I support them!! Buttery asparagus .. what could be better & so simple!

Rhubarb crumble .. delicious .. & I've just been having it stewed for breakfast recently .. really nice .. just love it!

Good to see you ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Daphne @ Joyful Days said...

Hilary,

Rhubarb crumble was my favourite dessert while I was living in England, and I haven't been able to find it anywhere else. Your post really made my mouth water.

Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables - especially the big stalks, which are harder to get here. We get the little skinny ones which are sweeter but less satisfying to bite into!

Liara Covert said...

Society is moving to where people will each be encouraged to nurture their own gardens. I have friends in Maryland, USA and they are not permitted to have a garden behind their own house. The area council has rules to fine gardeners on their home property because of the wildlife in the area. Home buyers sign a contract of sorts agreeing to the rules before they move in. Community garden patches are available in designated areas.

Marketing Unscrambled, learn to earn 14 said...

Hilary, you can sure make a person hungry and we just had dinner. what a lovely post. Thank you for the great information. Good things from the earth we are so blessed. Hope that your mother is doing better soon. Have a good day.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. thanks so much .. I know I love rhubarb .. and I didn't get out to buy some more for today's breakfast! There's nothing like crumble! Asparagus is so delicious ..

Mum was such an excellent gardener .. we were so lucky ..

Thanks for visiting .. it's great to see you here ..

All the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I was surprised about Maryland having that rule .. I'd have thought that fruit and veg (and weeds for that matter) would add a wider variety of wildlife?

Perhaps after the White House dig .. they'll rescind their rules. At least they have common lands for growing fruit and veg .. like our allotments I expect.

I don't have a garden - a few pots .. as my house was originally built on a farm .. before the land around was reclaimed by the sea and other housing was able to built - back in the 1800s - and there's a twitten (a lane) at the back down to what was the stables! so no garden ..

Thanks for being her and making an interesting observation ..

All the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna ..thanks so much for visiting .. I know the first season's growth is always special and makes one slightly greedy! I love the Sunday lunches .. when a good crumble is so absolutely delicious.

Thanks for the interest in my Ma .. she's well - but we're not sorted .. so it lingers on .. I have to see the doctor today to see what else they can try - two things have failed.

All the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wigwams .. thanks for visiting - I hope you enjoyed the story .. it's for my dying mother and she loves interesting facts .. so wigwams in Yorkshire will be interesting.

Thanks for visiting
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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M. J. Joachim said...

Your mother's garden sounds delightful! I'm so glad you have such fond memories of it, Hilary. Asparagus is such a good vegetable, though I've never tried to grow it myself. It's interesting that your family extended its growing season.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi MJ - thanks for visiting - sorry just picked the comment out of 'awaiting moderation'!!

My mother really was a brilliant gardener ... the 'forced rhubarb' is a way developed in the 1800s to encourage the rhubarb to grow and give us the pink delicate stems ... Wikipedia's second paragraph on cultivation gives you an idea ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhubarb_Triangle

I have just had my first asparagus and rhubarb this year: they are delicious!

Thanks for coming back so many years - cheers Hilary