Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Rhubarb compote with fennel pollen

O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. Her first cookbook is Lanka Food. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

As much as I admire rhubarb, I still think it’s a tricky beast. For a start, it has an identity crisis: it’s a vegetable masquerading as a fruit. Second, its leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which is poisonous. You would need to eat a lot to kill you, but it is possible. On top of that, as beautiful as a bunch is, you do need to put in quite an effort to make it worthwhile.

Rhubarb feels old-fashioned to me; it conjures images of crumbles and tarts, English cottages and keeping warm by the fire. This is a little misleading though, as the plant is a perennial and is often at its best in spring and autumn. The deep red colour is what I love most, but this also can be a trick, as pale pink stalks are equally delicious, as are the green-stalked varietals.

If you go hunting for rhubarb recipes generally, they will all contain sugar and involve cooking the fruit down before using it in cakes or pies or other sweet treats. The odd chutney appears, too. There isn’t a huge variety in what can be done with it, although I do have a method of thinly slicing, chargrilling and slightly pickling it, which is fiddly but delicious. In savoury land, any version of rhubarb with that sweet and savoury balance is good with roasted meats.

This recipe is my easy standard when I find a bunch of rhubarb in my weekly veg box. It treads the common path of using sugar to tame the stalks, and turns them into a sweet, sticky, jam-like thing, with the fennel pollen adding a beautiful aromatic note. If you can’t find fennel pollen, some toasted and ground fennel seeds will do just as nicely.

Once I make this, I keep it in the fridge and use a big dollop of it on my morning porridge or in my smoothies. It also would be delicious on a tart or in a cake and is perfect to use to make a fool if you too have similar English fantasies about rhubarb.


Makes 1 x 375g jar

Time: overnight + 20 minutes

  • 1 bunch rhubarb, about 540g (370g prepped weight), cut into 3cm pieces and washed
  • 80g castor sugar
  • ½ tsp fennel pollen
  • salt flakes and black pepper
  • 70ml orange juice
  1. Lie half the rhubarb in a saucepan, then add half the sugar and half the pollen. Season lightly.
  2. Repeat with the remaining rhubarb, sugar, pollen and seasoning.
  3. Pour over the orange juice, cover the saucepan with a lid or a tea towel and let it sit overnight.
  4. Have a look at your rhubarb; there should be a nice amount of liquid pooling at the bottom of the saucepan. Place the saucepan over a medium to high heat and bring to a boil, giving it a little stir as it comes to the boil.
  5. Once it comes to the boil, turn down the heat a little and simmer rapidly for a further seven to eight minutes, by which stage the rhubarb will be broken down a little and the liquid will be looking slightly thick and sticky.
  6. Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 16, 2021 as "Rhubarb statements".

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