Produce report September 10: Fruit and vege buys of the week
When you want something tart to perk up a spring crumble and apples have become a little too familiar, rhubarb steps into the breach. Although it’s available year round, it is at its best from May until November — spring’s early rhubarb being more tender and colourful. As the season progresses, it will become a tad more astringent and stringy.
Rhubarb is a good source of lutein, a compound that has many health benefits, helping to take care of skin and eyes. It is also high in vitamin K, best known for its role in healthy blood clotting. You can eat the stalks raw (do yourself a favour and dip one in sugar as you munch) but its leaves contain oxalic acid and are toxic. Put them on the compost instead — they are perfectly fine there but discard them after you have used the stalks. Storing the stalks with the leaves attached, if possible, will help keep rhubarb fresh.
Because it will wilt easily, it should also be kept unwashed in a covered container. New World Fresh Expert Brigit Corson says you will find fresh rhubarb in-store either loose or in bunches. Or for convenience, try Western Harvest’s fresh sliced rhubarb from Otaki, which is sold in vacuum packs. Desserts and baking aside, rhubarb has a place in savoury dishes (it partners well with pork) and it is striking in winter salads and pickles.
To celebrate the change of season, and hopefully a sunny day outside, try fixing yourself a pretty pink drink. Bake some rhubarb (with sugar, around 200g for every 500g rhubarb, and spices such as vanilla, sliced ginger, a few cloves or crushed cardamom or cinnamon, and a little water) and use 1 Tbsp of the juices per champagne flute. Top up with bubbles. Or strain cooked sweetened rhubarb (pressing it to release the flavour) and add the juice to gin with some sparkling water for a refreshing cocktail. If you want to take things seriously, make your own pink gin.
Wash rhubarb stalks, cut into lengths 2-3cm long, weigh them and put them into a large sterilised jar with not quite half their weight of sugar. Mix, cover and leave overnight. Next day, add about 800ml-1 litre gin per 1 kg of rhubarb. Cover with a lid and leave in a dark place for about a month to infuse. Strain through muslin if you wish or just ladle your now-pink gin out of the jar if straining is too much fuss. Serve with tonic or soda.
Rhubarb loves orange (navel oranges are still one of our buys of the week), vanilla, coconut, almond, strawberry, lemon, ginger and perfumed rosewater. Delaney Mes adds some to her roasted rhubarb served with fresh strawberries and raspberries and pistachios.
Local raspberries (and blueberries) are available in limited quantities now with supply ramping up in November when they are fully in season, but it will be a few weeks before local strawberries have arrived. Meantime you could use Australian ones if you want to give a Mediterranean meal Delaney’s special but simple finale. Try these rhubarb and berry muffins
Lemons and kiwifruit remain our fruit buys of the week. Limes are hiking in price and tamarillos are on their last run. Cauliflower and broccoli are good buying. Avocados are reasonably priced and you should see the first asparagus trickling into New World stores this week. Look out for local whitebait if you are in the mood for a special treat. The season began on August 15 and will close on November 30 (it is slightly shorter on the South Island’s West Coast). Bluff oysters have finished but scallops are looking good.