Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb
As you know, we believe in adding nothing artificial and using only the finest natural ingredients to make our amazing ices so we are always watching the seasons to see what is becoming available. One of the first food plants of the year to be ready in the UK is rhubarb, an amazingly flexible plant – literally! It is actually a vegetable and was exploited by the Chinese for the medicinal properties of its root. In fact, it was once more sought after than cinnamon and opium. It didn’t really take off as a food until sugar became affordable to the masses as it has to be said, it is a little tart. With a right sweetener, however, it can be used for pies, puddings and preserves. It is popular now for making a delicious gin and is even used as a dye. If a certain Geoffrey Boycott is to be believed, it can be wielded by an elderly lady to hit a cricket ball if bowled particularly badly!
Like so many of the plant products valued by our forebears, rhubarb has been shown to have real health benefits being low in cholesterol and a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins C and K, calcium and potassium. We like it for its colour and tangy taste and use it for our popular sorbet and also with ginger for a truly classic ice cream. Talking of Yorkshire, another famous product from that county is the Pontefract Cake made from liquorice. Our liquorice ice cream is sold in a number of restaurants across the country and we think it is a great, if unusual, accompaniment to a rhubarb pudding. Why not try it?
We have a rhubarb crown (fitting name for such a Queen of pudding ingredients!) in the garden that is ready to crop now but the first rhubarb is harvested by candlelight as early as January in sheds where all other light has been excluded to force it to grow tall. This produces tender, sweeter stalks. The practice is best known in Yorkshire which was once responsible for 90% of the world’s forced rhubarb and now qualifies to use that name the same way that Champagne and Stilton can be used in marketing a place derived product. The Rhubarb Triangle is the area between Wakefield, Leeds and Morley where you’ll find the forcing sheds.