Rhubarb hardly represents the first item that people, Americans anyway, associate with pickles, but the tart stems seem to appear on the shelves even of supermarkets for longer and longer seasons twice a year. In Britain during the nineteenth century it was the first fresh vegetable to appear in the vicegrip of winter.
Enterprising entrepreneurs discovered that rhubarb could be ‘forced in the “Yorkshire triangle where underground hotsprings served to heat greenhouses. The new technology of the railroad allowed fast shipment to the vast London market and, like the Beaujolais Nouveau craze of the late twentieth century, producers vied to hit the market first.
It happens that rhubarb makes a beguiling pickle, traditionally served by British cooks with oily fish, which while incongruous at a glance, makes a good deal of sense. The rebarbative acid of the rhubarb and the crunch of its stalk provided a pleasant foil for rich, chewy mackerel, herring, sardines or, in North America, bluefish. For our money, however, pickled rhubarb is especially good with sharp (mature to the British) hard traditional cheeses. You will need a Ball jar or jars, or something similar.
- 1 lb trimmed rhubarb cur to the height of your pickling jar(s)
- ¼ cup dark rum
- 3 or 4 bay leaves
- 2 or 3 dried red chilies
- 4 or 5 cloves
- generous Tablespoon thin ginger slices
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
- a sliced shallot or two
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon table (not coarse grained) salt
- Stand the rhubarb in your jar or jars, then distribute the spice and rum uniformly with the rhubarb
- Boil the vinegar, water, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves.
- Pour the hot pickling solution over the rhubarb, seal the jar(s) and cool before refrigerating.
- Let the pickles steep for a few days.
-The rum is not traditional. It is our addition and improves the pickles in dramatic fashion.
-The Sichuan peppercorns are not traditional either; for a little more authenticity and a slightly harsher tone use black peppercorns instead. Most recipes also omit shallot or any other member of the onion family.
-There is no need to sterilize your pickle jars, but if you do, the rhubarb will keep indefinitely, unrefrigerated, until opened. Fresh pickles (unsterilized jars) will keep a long time in the refrigerator, but not indefinitely.