The uncrowned summer king

Rabarber, de ongekroonde zomerkoning

When I lamented to my mum about the sorry state of the two rhubarb plants in my garden, which despite the amount of love and care I give them, and the sun they get, are withering away, she replied to me casually: ‘Oh, I just pulled mine out. They had got much too big. The two of us could never have eaten it all!’ What a shame that it’s a couple of hours drive north to the delicious rhubarb growing in the rich clay soil! But anyway, this rhubarb has now been a victim of its own success.

Pick me!

I’m pretty sure it’s too dry in my garden, too sandy and maybe not the right pH level for my acid-loving friends. But I will still keep giving them water, compost (3 times a year), and all the rhubarb love that I have. Because how tasty is rhubarb? Perhaps the most delicious vegetable I know. And it looks fantastic too. It has an amazing red on the stalks, and ridiculously lush green leaves. I have never see the plants blossom in the flesh. But in other people’s photos that I sometimes look at jealously, the flowers are proudly on display, as if they are shouting: pick me, I’m the (almost) summer queen! One consolation: they may look great, but they are not particularly tasty, at least if what I read is to be believed.

Lovely and warm

Today is 19th June, so two days until the longest day of the year and thus rhubarb’s high season. And it’s lovely and warm. All in all, a perfect day (and week) to enjoy rhubarb’s succulent tanginess. But why should you not pick rhubarb after 21st June (assuming it is growing, of course)? The green leaves of the rhubarb plant always contain a lot of oxalic acid. After 21st June, or there or thereabouts, this acid starts to flow back into the stalks in higher concentrations. This gives a sour taste and a certain feeling in the mouth. But is it also truly harmful? That depends how you look at it. It stops most vermin from eating rhubarb, as they cannot digest oxalic acid. In concentrated form it is also used to get rid of a parasite called varroa mites from bee colonies. So it is very useful. Oh yes, and you can also use it to combat rust, which is great for copper pans. But it’s not so great for the human body, as oxalic acid hinders calcium uptake, irritates your lungs if you breathe it in, and does not feel nice around your eyes. If you are exposed to it for long periods, it can damage your kidneys. That’s why it is advisable not to ingest too much, and to eat rhubarb up before the end of June. But I dare to suggest that even if you eat silly amounts of rhubarb in May and June, you won’t get sick of it. For me, rhubarb is the uncrowned summer king.

Rhubarb syrup

Once you are done with mousse, compote, jam, crumble and tart, then you can fill stroopwafels with rhubarb. They are delicious – you have to try them! I first ate rhubarb stroopwafels at the magnificent Stroop Rotterdam. There they make normal stroopwafels, and the syrup filling, then put a spoonful of rhubarb compote on top, then comes the other half of the stroopwafel…and hey presto! It needs to be eaten straight away, but you wouldn’t be able to save it even if you could! At home, you can simply replace normal syrup with pureed rhubarb compote and there you have it – delicious rhubarb stroopwafels!

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