At last rhubarb arrives in the grocery store, and you grab at it like a starving person. Which you have been, in a way, given winter’s turnip-y duration. In this state—flushed with spring love, fantasizing about pies and tarts and compotes—you arrive at the checkout counter, where the woman behind the register picks up your bundle, flips it around, squints at it, says, “What’s this?”
“Rhubarb!” you reply, adoringly.
“Is it some kind of celery?” she goes on, just as if you’d spoken total nonsense one second earlier.
“It’s rhubarb,” you repeat, and then, as she pulls out the laminated sheet of PLU numbers to enter into her machine, you sigh, add, “R-H-U-B…”
This scene, which plays out with variations all over America each May, might perturb the rhubarb devotee were he not too giddy to care.
Those of us who grew up with parents of British or northern European descent know rhubarb the way kids today know strawberries. James Dunlinson, an English art director (who lent his guidance to the creation of these photographs), spent his early springtimes dipping stalks of raw rhubarb into saucers of sugar, and devouring them—bite by blissful, painful bite. My mother, a Finn, used to park me on our front stoop with the exact same treat. I recall the sharp ecstasy of the flavors mingling in my mouth—the sourness almost pushing to intolerable before being rescued in a rush of melting sweetness.
Rhubarb, a leaf stem and therefore technically a vegetable, is in fact not only sour; it is also bitter and tannic and full of oxalic acid which makes your mouth feel chalky. And, according to James, “It’s the best taste there is. I’m obsessed with it.” Even now, grown up, he looks forward to rhubarb season the way most kids look forward to Christmas. Last year, for his birthday (which happens to fall in April), he invited 50 friends over and served them rhubarb four different ways.
He and Frances, who created these recipes, are in the habit of buying gobs of it in season. Whatever they can’t eat right away, they cut up and freeze for later (rhubarb freezes very well). Springtime in a ziplock bag.
Words by Celia Barbour, Art Direction and Inspiration by James Dunlinson, Prop Styling by Alistair TurnbullRead More