I liked the look of a Danish rhubarb cake seen in the Guardian a couple of weekends ago but found that, unusually for me, I didn't have enough plain flour for the recipe. But I did have just enough to make a crumble topping, following a recipe from my Sarah Raven cookbook**. This recipe also has ground hazelnuts in it, as well as oats, which was rather nice.
The rhubarb plant I picked from is several years in the ground now so has stood well over the mild winter, whereas my veg patch rhubarb plants are still just getting going. It looks like my friend's plant is ready to be split - there are several points (crowns) where the stems emerge. It's also good to mulch or feed rhubarb in the spring as this will result in better stems - chicken or comfrey pellets will do, or compost or well-rotted manure, but leave the crowns clear.
If you have room to grow several rhubarb plants, it's a good idea to deliberately choose varieties that crop at different times; I noticed that the Capel Manor kitchen gardeners are currently picking stems from a well established Timperley Early with stems from 'Victoria' and 'Royal Albert' at about 4 inches and 'Stockbridge Arrow' crowns just peeking above the soil level.
I'd borrowed a copy of the RHS Good Fruit and Veg Guide from the college library. I hadn't heard of either Albert or Stockbridge Arrow so wanted to see if the RHS rated them. They weren't listed in the book but I was pleased to see that both varieties that I grow - Champagne and Glaskins Perpetual - have earned a mention. The RHS describes the Champagne rhubarb cultivars to be generally early with sweet tender stems, whilst Glaskins P has a fair flavour but crops over a long period. I picked stems from my Glaskins rhubarb in early November last year but that's certainly unusual; it will be interesting to see how it does in the months ahead.
There are two more plants that have piqued my interest from the RHS guide: 'Grandad's Favourite' (great name!) is described as a mid-season variety with excellent flavour, while the stems of 'Fulton's Strawberry Surprise' are tender and well-flavoured. This last one also has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Ones to look out for at plant sales if looking to start a rhubarb patch.
* When the flats were built, a small piece of land next to the railway was fenced off for allotment gardens, each typically measuring about 3 x 6 metres. Individual tenants could adopt a plot for growing fruit and veg. They didn't have to be pretty, just well maintained and productive. In recent years, a growing number of tenants have turned these spaces into private leisure gardens so most are now grassed over (or worse, buried under gravel) and get used on a handful of weekends in the summer. Three plots are still used for the intended purpose, my friend's plot being one of them. She's also one of the original York Rise Growers. Nuff said.
** The crumble topping can be found in this Telegraph article. I whizzed up all ingredients in one of those hand-held blender chopping pots, having partially stewed my rhubarb on the stove top with butter and sugar. (Yes, butter. As instructed in the Guardian recipes. Nice.) Popped into little dishes and cooked for 20 minutes in the oven. Just enough time to make some Bird's lumpy custard. Honestly, I'm not usually that bad at making custard! It still tasted delicious.)