Well-established rhubarb plants tend to produce large bulbous flowers which quickly grow into large frilly masses. They can appear soon after the rhubarb is ripe for picking, and I always instinctively removed and disposed of them knowing that once the flowers get going, the rhubarb will stop producing.
I might at least have collected them to make a bouquet, but into the compost they went along with all the leaves of the plant. Once I learned that the flowers were edible, I was keen for my rhubarb to bolt, which with the hot spell we had recently is exactly what happened. Of course, knowing something is edible and figuring how to use it when there is not much literature on the subject opens the way for some more kitchen experiments.
The flowers can be picked at any stage – the tightly furled pinkish bulbs at first or later the loose creamy blossoms. Just be sure to remove any leaves which are still clinging to the early blooms as they are poisonous as are all rhubarb leaves.
I tried a number of things with them. First, I roasted some with vegetables such as kale, onions and mushrooms all drizzled with oil. Not as strongly flavoured or as sour as the rhubarb stock, they added a very tasty, slightly tart flavour. They did not get crisp as I had imagined – just soft. Still, they did add some interest to the usual roasted medley.
I also added some to a salad. Delicious if I may say so myself.
I also added them to pancake batter. Where I was using 2 cups of buckwheat flour I added 1 cup of flowers, broken into small pieces. It did not change the texture noticeably, but had a nice flavour, a little reminiscent of persimmons. Served with honeysuckle syrup it seemed a fitting breakfast for the season.
With some flowers left over I dehydrated them and hope to use them in future recipes. Maybe they’ll find their way into this year’s Christmas cake!