Last winter, Kitchen Garden ran a giveaway linked to the scientist's soil used at a Carriageworks installation in Sydney, some of which was delivered to Canberra when the art exhibition had ended.
The winner of the book was former cherry orchardist from Young, Michael Fawcett, who had moved to a tiny terrace in Alexandria, and he encouraged Canberrans to join a rhubarb growing and relish making competition called OALBY - only a little bit yucky (named by Josh who hates rhubarb). We shared the recipe in Food & Wine (Kitchen Garden, July 30, 2019).
Alan Robertson was growing 16 rhubarb plants in a communal bed at the COGS garden at O'Connor. He divided the plants and grew some in scientist's soil and the remainder in Landtasia compost. This comes from Landtasia Organic Farms at Mulloon and is stocked in sealed bags by a number of Canberra nurseries or you can arrange a small tipper delivery. Alan potted up two divisions in the compost for former Food & Wine editor Kirsten Lawson, and me.
Rhubarb is a thirsty plant and ours, unlike Alan's, were rather spindly. Also, general advice was not to harvest the stems in the first year. I obeyed but Kirsten threw caution to the wind and picked a scant 100g during January.
"I made two versions [of the relish], one with home-grown rhubarb and one with bought rhubarb," she said. "I was frightened of the word 'ferment' but actually it doesn't taste fermented, in that it doesn't taste funky, so I don't think of botulism every time I dip the spoon in. It really tastes quite fresh and we're liking it with cheese. We have one round of pecorino left from our Italy trip and cheese, relish and rocket has become a regular meal."
On December 14, Michael Fawcett sent minutes of the AGM of the Fermented Rhubarb Association of Australia to all entrants to say, "because of the drought, bushfires and the hopeless neighbour who forgot to water the plants while a contestant was on holidays, it was decided to also allow entries which used rhubarb sourced from a market or greengrocer."
On December 29, Kirsten replied, "re 'market or greengrocer', is there a specific definition or do you just mean any old shop? I feel like terroir might be important but I'm stressed about my rhubarb, it arrived and took off so beautifully but it seems to have shrivelled." She also wanted to know if 100 points were awarded for taste or were appearance and colour to be considered. She felt the recipe lent itself to experimentation, via maple syrup instead of honey or other sweeteners.
At the pointy end of the competition, things were getting rather stressful. Judging took place on January 25. The first gold OALBY went to Zoe who is married to the judge, Josh. Fawcett says, "and no it wasn't rigged. Believe me Josh had absolutely no idea who each relish belonged to. And the smile on his face when it was announced that he had chosen his wife's relish will stay with me for the rest of my life."
The silver "people's choice" OALBY went to Kirsten Lawson. There was a three-way tie for the bronze certificate. One of those successes was from Liz Ford who said, "Oh dear me, I'm flabbergasted - my family critics will be amazed!" She wanted to know what others did with the recipe, variations on a theme and thanked the organiser for "a year of camaraderie and cooking".
A special award went to artist Carolyn, disappointed because she had to withdraw from the competition at the last minute due to catching a high heel in the hem of long silk trousers and falling. To help her recuperate, Carolyn received a packet of ginger tea and the suggestion to use a stalk of her rhubarb to stir in a spoonful of honey to make rhubarb and ginger tea.
Those of you who now wish you had participated in this competition could consider growing rhubarb for next year. Some of you have no doubt entered the Royal Canberra Show with produce, chutneys and preserves. Entries for jams, spreads and apiculture close on February 13 (see online canberrashow.org.au), check out dates for horticulture and produce entries too, you can deliver in person until February 25. The Harvest Hall is always a delight to visit for every kitchen gardener.