Life being as it is, just a couple of days back I was looking at this image from John Leighton’s “London Cries & Public Edifices" published in 1851.
It’s a curious image I think because if you look closely you can see that the guy’s carrying a pair of scales, and in the text Leighton refers to rhubarb as a “drug” – so the seller is offering it dried, powdered, as a laxative? Seems likely.
And then the next day I was reading the Guardian and saw that Martin Parr has been photographing the rhubarb growers of Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle nine-square-mile area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell.
Parr, it think is one of the greatest, most subversive food photographers ever (not a huge field, I accept) but he did get access – and access is always half the battle.
Here in southern California we still await the first rhubarb of the year. It arrives soon I think – the cashiers in the supermarket never know what it is. It starts out pretty expensive, then goes pretty cheap, then disappears. In this age when so many things are available all year round, this feels like a great bit of seasonality.
Back in the day in Yorkshire, well outside the triangle, my dad used to grow rhubarb – one of his few horticultural success. I have never had any success whatsoever trying to grow it.
Meanwhile I await the Proustian arrival of the “local” crop. There’s some argument about which parts of Southern Cali – if any – have the necessary chill factor to grow rhubarb. Some sources say that all the rhubarb we get in California supermarkets comes from Canada.
And while I wait I’ve been making myself the occasional martini with the addition of rhubarb bitters, thus: