Archives for posts with tag: Rhubarb

I am guilty of getting obsessed with some things culinary – recipes by a certain chef, for example Nigel Slater, a favourite dish like posset or fruit curds, a place to shop like the Oxford Covered Market, an ingredient along the lines of lamb shoulder, rhubarb, lemons or star anise…

Today I got to satisfy a couple of my current obsessions in one fell swoop and in so doing created a simple supper for a group of friends.

It all started at the Oxford Covered Market a few days ago. I was dawdling though the market marveling at the array of food shops – fishmonger to cheese shop,

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butcher to coffee shop,

Italian delicatessen to green grocer

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– when my eye settled on a couple of boxes of rhubarb.

There was no way I’d be going home without a bag of rhubarb. The question was which of the two types would it be? The one lot were elegant thin prettily pink sticks from the Wye Valley at £6.95 and the others were from Yorkshire – heftier, darker, more sculptural stems adorned with lovely leafy fronds. Price £4.95 per kilo. Impossible to choose.

‘They’ll be sweeter, won’t they?’ said the greengrocer of the delicate pink ones, and I suspected he was right.  But what if the less beautiful, cheaper ones actually had a better flavour? I mean it’s not all about sweetness with rhubarb, is it?

After spending an agonizing few minutes weighing my options,I decided I had better have some of each. I’d do a taste test.

As I was paying for the rhubarb the greengrocer asked rather tentatively ‘Have you bought rhubarb before, then?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but not from you.’

‘It’s quite old fashioned isn’t it? Generally, it’s older people who buy it.’  Hmmm, well what exactly did he mean, I thought indignantly.

But all I said was, ‘Really?’ And then he came out with a real shocker.

‘To be honest, I’ve never cooked it myself… What are you going to do with it?’ He sold the stuff — how was it possible that he’d never cooked it? Somehow, though, his ignorance gave me all the assurance he lacked. This is what I told him:

‘I’m going to slow-roast a shoulder of lamb on a bed of rhubarb and then make a rhubarb posset for dessert.’ The thought of making two batches of the same thing merely to test which of the varieties of rhubarb was the better seemed like a very shoddy one indeed and I jettisoned it without a qualm.

The greengrocer was suitably impressed, and I marched out of the Covered Market with my double pack of rhubarb, and a steely determination to prove that it’s not something that the old, but rather the adventurous, use to create a memorable dish.

Back at our temporary residence in Cumnor, just west of Oxford, I dug out (on the internet) a couple of old favourites: Nigel Slater’s recipe for lamb cutlets cooked with rhubarb  and his rhubarb posset.  Then I dashed down the road to Michael Cain & Family Butchers to buy a free range lamb shoulder.

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Rhubarb Posset

I changed Nigel’s recipe slightly and oven roasted the rhubarb with a stick of cinnamon, three fresh bay leaves, the rind of a lemon, 10 black peppercorns and a cup of water.  Then once the rhubarb was cooked I reduced the reserved liquid by boiling it with the the bay leaves, cinnamon, peppercorns and lemon rind for ten minutes.

Slow cooked lamb shoulder

I rubbed the lamb with seven spice power, chili flakes, salt and pepper and placed it on the bed of chopped onion, rhubarb, celery and a small handful of star anise in the base of a heavy ovenproof dish. I roasted it covered for about five hours at 140 C.  Serve with a gravy made from the vegetables.All you need to go with this is a simple green salad and maybe potatoes.  Or celeriac purée à la Nigel Slater.

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Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, has been a failure in our garden. Or perhaps I should say we have failed Rheum rhabarbarum. After a very promising start when we grew six or eight plants from seed and watched them grow to maturity, we neglected to harvest any of the stalks and watched the plants die one by one for reasons we have never been able to determine.  I have keen to try growing rhubarb again but am too ashamed to mention this desire to Richard.

When I occasionally see rhubarb in our local greengrocer I sail past it without even thinking of  buying it and making something delicious with it. Rhubarb, after all, should be grown in the garden and not bought packaged in miserable polystyrene punnets.

However when I recently stumbled upon an enormous bunch of organic rhubarb in Haenertsberg in Limpopo I could not resist it.

Rhubarb

It was clear from the size of the bunch that there was far too much for just one dessert. What was I going to do with this rather large bunch of rhubarb? I can’t remember ever actually cooking rhubarb. I had liked the idea of cooking it, I had had little fantasies about walking down the garden path to pick the lovely pink stalks and making a tangy pie, but all I had done was kill the half dozen plants that were going to turn into potential pies.

Rhubarb

Naturally some online research was in order – and Google come up with the goods.

The first recipe that caught my eye was for rhubarb posset. I adore lemon posset.  Lemon posset has been a familiar food on our narrowboat trips since the year  my daughter first made it when she was drawn to a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe in The Guardian. 

I was aware that possets  have been around for centuries although not quite in the form familiar to us denizens of the 21st century. I got a little sidetracked reading up on the history of possets, learning that possets were both enjoyed as a dessert and used medicinally. In the process I found myself reading more than just a few posts on this engaging blog, British Food: A History. 

Rhubarb it seems has even more ancient roots than medieval posset. It was also used medicinally although in this instance in Tibet  – thousands of years ago. It was grown in China too,  but according to James Beard in Beard on Food, Siberia gave us the more common variety of rhubarb that we know and grow.

I was further sidetracked by the accounts of  growing rhubarb in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle.

After spending a couple of hours in cyber space I realised time was ticking by so I put my mind to getting the rhubarb cooked. I was rather taken by a recipe for lamb cutlets cooked with rhubarb. We were planning to cook Gemsbok shanks that night and it seemed this very English lamb recipe was just begging to be translated into a hearty Limpopo supper particularly suited to a misty rainy day.

We cooked the Gemsbok shanks for about six hours in a very low oven on a bed of chopped  onions and rhubarb, flavoured with star anise and black pepper, with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar.

At the same time, although not for the six hours allotted to the shanks, we roasted the balance of the rhubarb with castor sugar.

In the end, it was hard for me to give up the idea of the posset.  I wasn’t sure we had the right cream so we made a rhubarb fool by folding the baked, cooled rhubarb into whipped cream which we poured into long-stemmed glasses and refrigerated overnight. It made the most unexpected yet exquisite and festive breakfast. Just the thing for a Monday morning.

I am now very keen to get back to Patience (and the UK) as soon as possible to get some of that perfectly pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb. The season I believe starts in December and ends in March. Very chilly weather to be cruising the canals, I think. But perhaps we’ll attempt growing rhubarb in our suburban Johannesburg garden again. As James Beard says, ‘ Rhubarb is one of our first and great garden delights. It should not be forgotten.’

I’m going to need a large and regular supply of rhubarb. Some of the must-make rhubarb recipes on my list are: