I always think the arrival of British forced rhubarb signifies that Spring is not far off. It’s cheering colour is such a contrast to other seasonal fare and looks so pretty that I can’t resist it. We have consequently been eating a lot of it in the Harris household over the last week or two.
Rhubarb has been known in the UK for 500 years or more. Its root originally came from Siberia, and it was imported for medicinal purposes (it has astringent, laxative, purgative and anti-parasitic properties, as well as aiding bile flow). Mrs Beeton mentions it as relatively little-known plant, and the first recipes using it date from the late 18th century.
Here in the UK, the best forced rhubarb is grown in Yorkshire. Forced rhubarb, or early-season rhubarb, is grown under cover, at a constant (high) temperature. Natural light spoils the appearance of its leaves, so it is harvested by hand by candlelight.
Early-season rhubarb is acidic in its raw state, and requires cooking and the addition of sugar to make it palatable. Its leaves are toxic due to the high oxalic acid content, so discard before preparing your rhubarb. It is rich in potassium, as well as calcium and vitamin C.
Rhubarb is generally used as a fruit, although it is by definition a vegetable related to sorrel and buckwheat family. It is often used for puddings and sweet foods, and makes a popular crumble filling. It also makes a fantastic syrup to use for martinis.
To make the syrup, we used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in The River Cottage Year, doubling up on the quantities, as it can last for several weeks in a sealed jar in the fridge.
- 1 kilo British rhubarb
- juice of 4 blood oranges
- 8 tablespoons sugar
- Rinse and chop rhubarb roughly
- Add to pan with juice of 4 blood oranges, as well as 4 tablespoons of sugar
- Simmer rhubarb for ten minutes or so until tender
- Strain syrup into jar
- Leave to cool and refrigerate
For the martini, use 1 part rhubarb to 4 parts vodka. We used Chase Vodka, which is British. Serve with 2 inch stick of raw rhubarb to garnish. Watch out though, these are lethal!
We kept the rhubarb and blood orange pulp post-straining, and this compote can be used to tart up a breakfast porridge, or served as an accompaniment to oily fish (we like it with grilled mackerel).
Preheat oven to 180ºC
- 1 kilo British rhubarb
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Inch of ginger root, peeled and grated
- 6 cloves
- 175g golden caster sugar
- 2 tbsp of water
- 225g ground almond
- 225g coconut sugar
- 112g porridge oats
- 110g butter (room temperature)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- For filling, mix together sugar, zest, juice, ginger, cloves and add to 2 tbsp water
- Rinse and chop rhubarb into 2 cm pieces
- Pour sugar and juice mixture over rhubarb, and add to oven-proof dish
- To make topping, mix together ground almonds, baking powder and porridge oats
- Rub butter into mixture
- When combined, add sugar and combine again with hands
- Top crumble filling with topping
- Cook for 45 minutes at 180º C, until bubbling and golden
- Serve piping hot, with custard or cream
Blood Orange and Rhubarb Tart
Preheat oven to 180º C.
- pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry (or make your own, if time). We used Jus-Rol all butter shortcrust pastry
- 600ml rhubarb and blood orange syrup (see above)
- juice of 1 blood orange
- zest of 2 blood oranges
- 180g caster sugar
- 6 egg yolks, beaten
- 150ml double cream
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- Roll out pastry to fill 20cm tart tin; trim edges with sufficient overhang to allow for shrinkage
- line pastry with baking parchment, fill with baking beads and chill for about 20 minutes
- blind bake for about 15 minutes until golden
- remove parchment paper and beans and return to oven for 5 minutes
- trim pastry case again flush with tin (ie remove overhang) and leave to cool
- Reduce oven temperature to 100ºC
- Reduce rhubarb and blood orange syrup to about 170ml, and cool. This will intensify the flavour and thicken the mixture.
- Beat orange juice and zest with sugar and egg yolks.
- Add double cream
- Add cooled syrup
- Put pie case on oven shelf, add filling carefully up to rim of pie case and slide shelf back with care
- Bake at 100º C for about 30 minutes, until filling is set but still soft
- Turn off oven and leave tart to cool until set firmly
- Cool, then chill
- Sift half of icing sugar on top of the tart, caramelise with blow torch, allow to cool, then add rest of icing sugar, and caramelise with blow torch again
- Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve
- Serve with creme fraiche or clotted cream
This tart was amazing. The blowtorch creates a Crème brûlée texture to the top of the tart that works really well with the rhubarb and the blood orange. If anything, the tart filling was perhaps a little too wobbly – it may need the addition of one more egg yolk, but in all honesty, I liked the texture and for me felt it worked well with the brûléed top. And it went fantastically with a glass of Sauternes.