Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Rhubarb Two Ways (Well, Two Decades)


It is currently mid-season for main crop rhubarb. The season for forced rhubarb ended in February. I prefer my rhubarb stewed, or in modern parlance as a ‘compote’. This magnificent fruit takes a little bit of time to prep but is very easy to work with and forms the basis of many delicious recipes. A large bunch of rhubarb, once boiled, stewed or baked, is drastically reduced in size (but not flavour!). Its cooking behaviour reminds me a bit of spinach, an enormous bag, once cooked and drained, becomes a tiny green ball.

Because of its strong flavour, a small amount of cooked rhubarb goes a long way. It can be teamed with other fruits too, usually those with a milder taste such as pears or quinces. If you make a rhubarb crumble, as a rule of thumb, you will need about 10 sticks of fruit.

I thought I would share with you my recipe for rhubarb compote. Compote can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for about a week if stored in an airtight container. You can spoon over porridge, granola or Weetabix at breakfast time, on ice cream or simply serve with rich, thick custard. Compote is also a good way to introduce children to rhubarb, it is easily digestible and not so sharp once it has been reduced down with sugar (or honey) and water.

My Spiced Rhubarb & Ginger Compote

Ingredients: 1 lb rhubarb; 1/2 pint of water; 3 teaspoons of honey or 2 tablespoons of golden syrup; 2 teaspoons ground ginger; 1 teaspoon  cinnamon; freshly grated nutmeg (to taste); 1 teaspoon mixed spice.

  1. Wash rhubarb thoroughly. Rhubarb leaves are not edible, in fact they are poisonous as they contain oxalic acid;
  2. Using a sharp knife cut-off leaves and about 1 to 2 inches off of the bottom of each stick. Thick stalks will need their stringy ribs stripped away, this can be done with a sharp knife;
  3. Cut rhubarb into inch-length pieces;
  4. Place rhubarb in a saucepan together with the water, honey/golden syrup, ground ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and freshly grated nutmeg;
  5. Gently simmer mixture over a low heat until all of the fruit has disintegrated. Don’t leave the simmering fruit unattended as it turns from solid to soft surprisingly quickly;
  6. Leave to cool. Store in the fridge in an airtight container. Lasts about 1 week.
The Landswoman April 1919
Advertisement for Freemans Custard from Landswoman, April 1919.

If you prefer your fruit to have a creamier consistency, why not try this recipe for rhubarb whip from Good Housekeeping’s Picture Recipe Book (4th ed. 1957).

 Rhubarb Whip (1957)

Ingredients: 1lb rhubarb; 4 ozs golden syrup; 1/2 pint evaporated milk; chopped nuts.

  1. Prepare the rhubarb and cut into small, even-sized pieces;
  2. Place in a pan with the golden syrup and stew gently until it is tender. If it does not break-up easily, beat it with a fork;
  3. Whip the evaporated milk until stiff;
  4. Fold whipped milk into the rhubarb mixture;
  5. Pour into glasses and decorate with chopped nuts.

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