Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In praise of ... rhubarb

The Guardian, Leader article

Rhubarb can trace its ancestors back to 2,700 BC in China when it was used for its medicinal qualities (well, purgative actually) and has had a rambunctious history ever since. Marco Polo wrote about it at length in his journals in the 15th century. By the 19th it had become so popular in Britain that Chinese bureaucrats threatened to cut off supplies if the "wicked British merchants" did not stop trading in opium, leading some historians to suggest that maybe it should have been called the rhubarb war rather than the opium war. Until comparatively recently Britain had cornered the market with an estimated 90% of the world's forced rhubarb being grown in the "rhubarb triangle" between Pontefract, Leeds and Wakefield (where a rhubarb festival is still held). Sometimes it is regarded as a joke, doubtless because mumblings of "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb" appeared as background noise in the Goon Show. It even achieved the notoriety of becoming a verb when City slickers talked about rhubarbing shares by artificially hyping their prices. Now, this mysterious vegetable masquerading as a fruit is being rehabilitated. It is appearing increasingly on fashionable menus from Abergavenny's Angel Hotel (rhubarb meringue with ginger ice cream) to London's Tate Modern (poached with elderflower sorbet). It has even reached the dizzy heights of being offered in a Michelin three star restaurant (Alain Ducasse's at Monaco): which only goes to show that you can't keep a good vegetable down.

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