Cooking for Fun! - Rhubarb

Ailsa Craddock

The rhubarb in my garden is growing really well (apart from the hens eating some of the leaves!) so I thought this month we would look at that. It’s such a relatively short season that we really ought to make the most of it! Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable (it’s related to sorrel and dock) but its thick, fleshy stalks are treated as a fruit, despite their tart flavour. It grows in two crops. The first, which arrives early in the year, is forced and grown under pots. Its stalks are watermelon pink, with pale lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two. The second, called maincrop rhubarb, is grown outdoors, and arrives in spring. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than forced. The health benefits of rhubarb include its ability to improve digestion, stimulate bone growth, boost skin health, improve circulation and metabolism and full of fibre, vitamin C, K and B, and calcium. So, let’s make the most of its time and as well as making crumbles and pies, look at savoury dishes and cordials.

Mackerel with rhubarb chutney – this is for one portion – obviously double/quadruple it as necessary!

75g / 3oz castor sugar

25g/1oz sultanas

few sprigs fresh rosemary

2cm/¾in piece root ginger peeled and finely chopped

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

3 sticks rhubarb

5 tbsp cider vinegar

1 orange, juice only

salt and black pepper

1 mackerel - 2 fillets

For the chutney, in a heavy-based pan melt the sugar until a goldenbrown caramel forms. Remove from the heat and stir in the sultanas, rosemary sprigs, ginger, shallot and rhubarb. Stir in the cider vinegar and orange juice. Bring back to the boil and cook gently for 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

For the mackerel, place the mackerel fillet skin-side up on an oven tray. Brush with rapeseed oil and place the fillets under a hot grill. Season with salt and pepper. Serve a spoonful of chutney with the cooked mackerel fillets, new potatoes and a crisp salad.

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

This is one of my all-time favourite puddings! I’ve tried it with other fruit but it doesn’t work nearly as well. As the season is relatively short you really have to make the most of it - consequently, below is probably more for two than one - but you will be really happy tomorrow when you have another portion to eat!

5 tablespoons plain flour,

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar,

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 tablespoon milk,

1 egg,

1lb rhubarb, chopped

Sauce: 75 grams butter

4 - 5 tablespoons sugar

1 small egg

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix the flour and the baking powder in a small ovenproof dish. Add egg and milk and oil and mix together to a batter. Place the rhubarb on top and put into the oven for 15 minutes. Melt the butter and sugar together for the sauce, switch off heat and add beaten egg - DON’T LET IT SCRAMBLE! Pour on top of cake and put back in oven for another 15 minutes. Yum!

Rhubarb Crumble – is an old favourite – but do try this one with a twist! Roast the rhubarb first to hold its shape and its glorious colour!

10 stems of rhubarb sliced into 5cm pieces

4 tablespoons runny honey

Zest and juice of an orange,

2 star anise

Put all above into a dish and roast for 15 mins at 200C. Put to one side.

Crumble topping:

80g butter

2 tablespoons runny honey

60g amaretti biscuits, lightly crushed

60g flaked almonds

60g oats

Melt the butter and honey together and add the rest of ingredients. You can either then pile on to the rhubarb and put into the oven at 180oC for 15 – 20 minutes – or do what I do and spread it onto a baking tray at same temperature for 10 – 15 minutes till crisp. You can then sprinkle on top of your rhubarb, keeping it crunchy and if any left over keep in a jar to top ice cream, porridge or fresh breakfast fruit.

Rhubarb Crumble

450g rhubarb, chopped

225g sugar (I know it seems a lot, but remember you are going to dilute it and don’t need a lot)

300ml water

1 orange, zest and juice,

1 lemon, zest and juice

Put the sugar and water into a large saucepan. Add the rhubarb, zests and juices and bring to the boil. Cook until the rhubarb is completely mushy (technical term!). Put a piece of muslin over a large bowl (I secure mine with an elastic band) and pour the liquid and fruit into it. Leave it to drip through overnight. Bottle and keep in the fridge (I have no idea how long it will last as it seems to go as fast as I can make it, but I would think about 1 week to 10 days).Enjoy with either hot or cold tap water, sparkling water – you can even serve it with prosecco!

PS If you want to make more, I work on a ration of half sugar to weight of rhubarb and up the water slightly