Friday, 26 March 2010

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

The Art of Coarse Acting suggests that when one is on stage and engaged in sotto voce conversation, one should mutter rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb in order to mimic real speech. Of course, the reality is that the actors are muttering You cut my best line, you bloody cad and Only because you ruined my comic pause, you great fat ham &c., &c.

It is nothing short of tragic to see the depths to which this noble plant has fallen: upstage mutterings or the odd crumble.

Earliest records of rhubarb go back to 2700 BC in China where it appears in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic. It was used medicinally and was considered more valuable than the rarest of spices. In fact, in 1839, the purgative quality of rhubarb had the Imperial Commissioner, Lin Zexu, writing to Queen Victoria insisting that she put a stop to the Opium Trade or else China would put a stop to the export of rhubarb which would, well, put a stop to the English Barbarians - if you get my drift - full stop.

It has been suggested that in order to scupper The Great Rhubarb Embargo, the crafty Victorians smuggled out the rhizomes and cultivated rhubarb in Yorkshire -

Excuse the self-indulgence, but I must digress for one moment. My favourite, favourite passage in the writer Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has just returned from Yorkshire where he's been upsetting monks.
"How was Yorkshire?" asks the Cardinal.
"Filthy," says Thomas. "Weather. People. Manners. Morals."

- in the Rhubarb Triangle, which is somewhere in the region of Wakefield but is a bit like the Bermuda Triangle because once you go into a Rhubarb Shed you are never seen again -

- without a flat cap.

The plants were fed with mungo and shoddy from t'mills (dark and satanic, naturally).

The reason I am so interested in all this is because a quantity of fleshy petioles came into my possession (cough) only yesterday, and I've knocked up 6lbs of rhubarb and ginger jam.

And rather than just eat it, like a normal person, I've spent an hour or so researching its origins.

F 'rinstance, did you know that rhubarb has an astringent effect on the mucous membranes of the nasal cavaties? So don't stick it up your nose.

Last year, I was given some posh bath oil scented with rhubarb. Every time I bathed in it, I was propositioned. I expect I smelled like a tart.

And on that note I'm away to toast my crumpets.

(Come on, it's still National Euphemism Week - let me squeeze that one in.)

Rhubarb jam recipe available here. (But even nicer if you add some finely chopped ginger.)


  1. Loved the post, and was JUST thinking about saying 'what about rhubarb and ginger jam - that's really nice' when you mentioned it! A friend used to make a rhubarb and orange crumble. It was superb. So maybe rhubarb and orange jam would work?

  2. Thanks, Fran, but that whole post was an excuse to boast about making jam.

    I was thinking about you and your fl*t c*p ...

    And I really did have rhubarb-scented bath oil. I'm surprised people didn't dollop custard on my head.

  3. Moptop, I made myself wait until this morning to read this post so that I could start out the day with a good giggle.
    Loved it. Really. Even though I was taught never to use that verb to express feelings for anything other than a human or a cat. Sorry, Mom.

  4. Thank you again, Deborah. I would have replied earlier, but I was covered in jam.

  5. Your photo of that little pot of jam looks more like a substace one might want to use to paint the town red - it has a decidedly wicked aura.

  6. Jinksy - a girl can do a lot with a pot of jam ...

  7. I was always warned that you couldn't talk about rhubarb if there was an R in the month?