rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

If you visited my garden at the moment, a glimpse of the rhubarb patch would reveal that my weeding is as shoddy as ever. It’s on my long mental ‘to-do’ list, honestly, but as always my priority has been to eat it.

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Whether scoffed with vanilla yoghurt and home-made muesli for breakfast, served up in a fool for pud or in a very pink drink, rhubarb is never far away at present.

I recently spent a few lovely hours up a wildly wonderful hill near to Abergavenny and came home with a jar of sweet rose dukkah. A fragrant blend of dried rose petals, roasted Herefordshire cobnuts, pistachios, vanilla, cardamom and saffron, it pairs wonderfully with rhubarb. And adds a subtle sweetness that means you can avoid excess sugar in rhubarb puds such as crumble or rhubarb clafoutis.

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Concocted by Liz Knight whose creative resourcefulness (she was tapping nearby birch trees for sap when I visited) I admire and wrote about here, sweet rose dukkah seems both exotic and redolent of her wonderful Welsh borders hillside. As Liz explained, its rugged beauty isn’t suited for any sort of farming other than sheep, so Merlin’s hill is never sprayed with pesticides. Leaving an abundance of wild ingredients for the picking.

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Sweet rose dukkah can be sprinkled onto cakes or rolled into lamb to create a crust too. But for the moment, thanks to an abundance of the slender pink stemmed stuff, it’s partnering rhubarb in my kitchen.

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My regular starting point with rhubarb is to make a sort of easy, bung it in the oven, compote:

Baked Rhubarb Compote

Chop 1 kg rhubarb into 5 cm-ish lengths, place in a baking tray or dish, squeeze over the juice of an orange and about 125g caster sugar (if you’ve got hold of sweet rose dukkah, you can reduce this according to taste) cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes or so until tender.

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The beauty of making compote in the oven rather than in a pan for me is that it’s far easier to end up with rhubarb that still has some shape and colour, even if you forget about it. Whereas if you cook it in a pan, multi-task/let yourself be distracted for a few minutes and you have a shapeless mush.

Delicious simply with Greek yoghurt (add muesli or granola and you have a fab breakfast) this rhubarb can now be a starting point for many puds. Lovely in rhubarb custard, I also make a very easy rhubarb fool.

Rhubarb Fool

Take 4 heaped tablespoons of the rhubarb compote above and mash with a fork (I like some texture, but you can aim for more of a puree if preferred) then fold into 2 tablespoons vanilla yoghurt or Greek yoghurt and 1 tablespoon double cream.

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Sweet rose dukkah is lovely sprinkled over rhubarb fool. You should also be left with some gloriously pink/amber syrup from the rhubarb compote dish.

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Mine is reserved in the fridge, and may well be destined for fruity, rustic weekend cocktails.

The chunkier stems of rhubarb have been cooked slowly with a little water, heading for cordial:

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I used the Jamie Oliver recipe here for cordial. It’s pleasingly simple but results in a pink tipple that’s as lovely with sparkling water as it is with Prosecco.

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Angelica and Sweet Cicely are next on the list to be partnered with rhubarb (another way to reduce sugar) particularly as I can see their fresh new growth emerging amongst the herbs close to the kitchen door. And yes, they need weeding too…..

Thanks lots to Cristina Colli, who took the photos of Liz Knight foraging and who I spent a great day talking about food with – you can see more of her lovely photography and styling here.

And despite a meander up a wild hillside, as this post is mainly about my rhubarby kitchen, would love to share my kitchen (and hence have the excuse for some nosy peeps in other kitchens around the world) by joining in with Celia of Fig Jam & Lime Cordial’s April In My Kitchen.

rhubarb and rose jam

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At the beginning of May, I definitely wouldn’t have considered making jam. All that sunshine made me want to spend any spare moments outside. Planting fruit, not cooking it in the kitchen.

Now everything is so lush, the rhubarb is really flourishing and I can see sweet cicely with its pretty cream flowers from the kitchen table.

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But it’s very cold and rainy. So instead of dusk gardening, evening jam making beckons.

Popping out to the garden to gather fruit and herbs, an abundance of mud and cooking are a dangerous combination I find. Once I’m outside there are always a few bits and pieces that I notice need attention and I’m easily distracted. But I’d planned to cook and hadn’t exactly dressed for gardening.

One evening there was a cold-frame avalanche. Shoddy placing of the top shelf (by me of course) meant that it suddenly collapsed. Of course it was crammed full of pots of seedlings, which all landed on top of the poor courgettes and Mother Hubbard squash plants sitting below. I’d only popped out for a minute of watering the pots inside. An hour later, I arrived back in the kitchen, having re-potted as many undamaged plants as possible. Thankfully there weren’t too many plant casualties, just very muddy arms for me.

Looking back at pictures of Ruby gardening, I think she may take after her Mum in her insistence that there’s no need to change, one outfit suits everything:

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This was taken after a Jubilee street party last year (you may spot the face-painting) – we’d returned home and were checking the potatoes! Ruby’s pretty dress soon became very muddy.  I don’t exactly have an extensive wardrobe but I do like to wear and enjoy my favourite clothes too. Skirts and dresses are happily intermingled with my scruffy jeans. Often worn with these of course:

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So after my very lovely girly excursion to the village hall vintage tea party, I may have been tempted to browse these (totally out of my price range!) Brora Liberty Print and  tea dresses. But even if I had cash to spare, I know I’d end up cooking in them, pop out to pick a few herbs and water the cold frame a little before turning the compost heap.

Perhaps these great Howies organic t-shirts (I love the fact that they’re called ‘Go Wild’ and in violet) may be more practical. And I’ll have a feminine fix from these very pink drinks and preserves.

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The gloriously pink bottles are rhubarb cordial, made from the Jamie Oliver recipe here. It’s a very refreshing (and pretty!) drink diluted with sparkling water or just tap water. And I think it’ll make a fabulously summery drink added to Prosecco once we have warm evenings again.

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The rhubarb and rose jam (I know, at last I’ve got to the point!) is adapted from Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar, Smoke. Rhubarb, rose and cardamom jam is one of the many jewel-coloured inspiring preserve recipes in this very lovely book.  I will make the original recipe too very soon. But much as I love cardamom, I thought Ruby (who I’m hoping will like this fragrant pink jam with stove-top rice pudding and porridge) would prefer a version without. And besides, this is the first year I’ve had Sweet Cicely thriving in the garden. I’ve read so much about how brilliant it is paired with rhubarb and wanted to try a rhubarb/sweet cicely combination.

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 I made this jam twice – first, using jam sugar with added pectin as in Diana Henry’s version. This produced a jam that set easily, but I wanted a runnier jam, so tried it made just with granulated sugar. I prefer this version, and will even try it again with less sugar – especially as Sweet Cicely is well known as a herb which reduces the acidity of tart fruit. It wouldn’t last as long and would need to be kept in the fridge, but as I have so many uses in mind, including scones, Victoria Sandwich cakes with mascarpone and just spread on good toasted sourdough, I don’t think that will be a problem.

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Rhubarb and rose jam with sweet cicely

1 kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)

900g granulated sugar

juice of 1 lemon

a few sweet cicely leaves

100ml apple juice

1 dessert spoon rose water

Trim and wash the rhubarb, cutting into short lengths. Toss with the sugar in a preserving pan and pour over the lemon juice and apple juice. Cover and leave overnight, or at least for a few hours to draw out the juices from the rhubarb.

Add the sweet cicely to the rhubarb. Slowly bring the contents of the pan to the boil so that the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly until you reach setting point. I found this only took a few minutes, but then I’m prepared to have runny jam dribbling over the sides of my scones.

Remove from the heat, remove the sweet cicely and add the rose water. Return to heat and bring to boil again quickly. Remove from heat, tasting and adding a little more lemon juice or rose water (although remember you’re after a lovely fragrant jam, not creating perfume) to taste. Put in warm, sterilized jars and seal.

If it lasts that long, it’ll be lovely when the roses are blooming to decorate little bowls of rice pud or cakes that include this preserve, with petals. In the meantime, I’ll make do with violets.

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This is a sponsored post, but as usual all rambling opinions are my own.

 

 

 

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