I have this thing with rhubarb. So, having covered most of the classics (rhubarb crumble, rhubarb mess, and stewed rhubarb), I began to experiment with rhubarb preserves. I made a nice jam, and syrup to be mixed into cocktails. More recently, I discovered pickled rhubarb and I was so blown away by it, that I thought to share it here.
The idea came via a multiple series of lucky events and encounters. The first, a breakfast meeting with the talented cook, Olia Hercules, who swore by an amazing Ukrainian-style rhubarb pickle. The second, a casual chat with a colleague, who told me about Jeremy Lee‘s famous pickled rhubarb served with mackerel.
Jane Grigson didn’t come very useful this time around. In her otherwise brilliant The Fruit Book, rhubarb has a marginal role: she made it pretty clear that it wasn’t really her thing. So I turned elsewhere for inspiration.
Eventually, I settled on the idea of a quick pickle. The pickling liquid is made of cider vinegar combined with just enough sugar to lessen the sharpness of the rhubarb. Then, spices impart some pleasant aromatic undertones. Most recipes would call for sweet spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cloves. I went for ginger – always a perfect partner to rhubarb – bay leaf, peppercorns, chilli, and only a hint of cloves.
Resting time is 48 hours. You could eat them as soon as they have cooled, however, a slightly longer resting time makes the rhubarb more tender while still preserving its crisp bite.
These pickles work wonders with oily fish like mackerel or sardines, either smoked or grilled. They are also good with hard cheese such as a good farmhouse cheddar or even a Gruyere, or roast pork.
Line two sterilised pint jars with lids. Rinse the rhubarb stalks, scrubbing any residual soil, and trim the leaves and brown ends. Cut into 2-cm long pieces and pack them into the two jars. Divide the rest of the spices between the two jars, then set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the cider vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Whisk often to help dissolve the sugar and salt. As soon as the pickling liquid is boiling and the sugar and salt are dissolved, pour it into the jars until the liquid covers the rhubarb pieces. Close immediately with the sterilised lids. Allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator.
Let the rhubarb pickles cure for at least 48 hours before eating, then enjoy within two weeks from opening.