Rhubarb, rhubarb

So wittering on Twitter in my usual fashion and I got into conversation with Grown With Love. In case you’ve not heard of them, @GrownWithLove is the twitter tag for Barfoots – a sustainable farm business based in the South of England http://www.barfoots.com/products-services/grown-with-love/
Anyway, upshot of the conversation was that they very kindly offered to send me some rhubarb. Now I don’t know about you but I LOVE rhubarb – something about those sharp, pinky green stems really works for me. And of course now is the time to eat the homegrown stuff.

picture of rhubarb

Rhubarb from Grown With Love

Rhubarb is in fact a vegetable, but like the tomato (strictly speaking a fruit that is eaten as a savoury) it is treated in the opposite way ie as a sweet item. It matches beautifully with ginger, cardamom and vanilla spices; and likes orange, almonds and strawberries. Of course, you can keep things simple and just gently poach the rhubarb with a little water and sugar to taste, which will make a lovely rhubarb compote perfect for swirling into plain yogurt.

I like to make rhubarb jam – this year I’ve mixed it with cardamom to create a gorgeous pale pink, orange spiced jam that goes rather well with a scone. Wash 1 kilo of rhubarb and slice into 1/2 inch chunks. Put in pan with a splash of water – literally just enough to stop the fruit from sticking to the pan base as it heats. Crack open 6 cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and give them a good bashing to smash up the seeds and husk. Add to the rhubarb and let it simmer on a gentle heat until the rhubarb releases all its juices and becomes soft strands. Add 650g granulated sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook until the jam is thickened and drips off the spoon in big flakes – or use the wrinkle test – dollop a spoonful on a chilled saucer (taking jam off the heat while you check for the set or you’ll wind up with toffee) and let it cool, then push with your finger to “wrinkle” the surface – if that happens, the jam is ready, if it’s still runny, cook a little longer. This jam doesn’t set particularly hard but you want to spoon it not drink it…

I wanted to try something else though, I toyed with the idea of a rhubarb cake but hey, I always make cake. Then I thought about almonds. More specifically, a rhubarb frangipane tart, maybe with a little splash of Amaretto? See where I’m going with this? Patisserie is not my forte – I can make it taste good, but glamorous fiddling about with precision decoration isn’t me. So excuse the pictures of the tart – others will make it look far better but I can assure you it tasted very very nice indeed.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Pastry Case:

(Shop bought pastry gives me indigestion – so I make my own but feel free to use a good ready made sweet crust pastry – no judging here!)

175g plain flour

25g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane Filling

3 tablespoons rhubarb jam (or use raspberry or strawberry)

400g roasted rhubarb – wash and chop into 1 inch pieces and roast in 180C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

110g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter, melted

110g ground almonds

2 tablespoons of Amaretto (optional but NICE)

Handful of flaked almonds.

Make pastry by sifting together flour and icing sugar. Rub in cold butter with fingertips or using a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolk with cold water and add to the flour/ butter mix to bring it together into a soft dough. Handle gently! Shape into a flat disc and chill for half an hour. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 23 cm loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the base with a fork and put back in fridge to chill and firm up for another half hour. Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F or GM6.  Line pastry with baking parchment and fill with dried beans or scrunched up foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 180C/ 350F/ GM4

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Make filling by mixing  eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add Amaretto if using and the melted butter. Mix well then fold in the ground almonds.  Spread jam over the cooled pastry base, and top with the rhubarb pieces. Spoon over the frangipane topping and smooth.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes until the filling is golden brown and just set – it should wobble a little.

Serve with ice cream

Served with ice cream

 

 

Serve with lashings of cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thanks again Grown With Love!

Stir Up Sunday

The clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, it’s as dark when I get up as when I come home from work and my thoughts are turning to the approaching festive season. The scents of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves need to fill the air and bring me comfort.

This weekend it is Stir Up Sunday – the day that traditionally we British like to make our Christmas puddings, to give them a full month to mature and develop those delicious festive flavours.

The name “Stir Up Sunday” refers, somewhat irreverently to the beginning of the Book of Common Prayer’s collect (prayer) said on this day – “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit  of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen”. This prayer was then adapted by children to the following rhyme: “Stir-up we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot; and when we get home, we’ll eat the whole lot!”. Canny cooks also noted that this date meant a perfect 5 week maturation of the Christmas pud.

There are all sorts of lovely traditions associated with this recipe. The whole family takes it in turn to stir the pudding and make a wish for the coming year. The mix is traditionally stirred from East to West (clockwise), to represent the journey made by the Three Wise Men. The pudding also traditionally has 13 ingredients – to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples. A coin is placed within the pudding and cooked, the person who finds it on their plate will find wealth in the coming year.

So, to the Christmas Pudding recipe – this is one my family has made for years and is unusual in that it contains NO FAT (yes, really) which of course means you can eat it with plenty of cream! It is also completely vegetarian.

 

Antal Christmas Pudding

 

6oz plain or self-raising flour

6oz fresh breadcrumbs

freshly grated nutmeg

1.5 lbs of mixed dried fruit

(raisins /sultanas/ blueberries/ cranberries/ cherries/ apricots – whatever you like best but a mixture. You can also add a handful of chopped pecans / macadamias/ almonds or hazelnuts)

1 grated carrot

8oz Demerara sugar

2 tbsp marmalade

2 tbsp treacle or golden syrup

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

1/4 pint milk

2 tbsp lemon juice

brandy or rum to taste

 

 

Mix all ingredients together well.

Grease pudding bowl and add mixture. Cover well and secure.

Steam immediately for 4 hours.

Cool & store in fridge until needed.

To re-heat, steam for 11/2 hours.

 

This will make one big pudding (2 pint) or can be divided into two smaller ones and will feed 8-10 people, with seconds…

 

 

 

Have a very berry autumn

I love autumn. Love the crisp mornings and smoky dusks. Love the usually fine weather during the day. Love the colours changing and the nights drawing in. Most of all, though, I love the feast that Nature provides for us in the form of berries, nuts, fungi and other fruit. For the second day running, I’ve been out for a walk and come back clutching just under a kilo of fresh blackberries.  In case you imagine me madly juggling purple handfuls, I am the sort of person who goes out for a walk with a couple of freezer bags stashed in my pocket for exactly this purpose. I know…. Seamus Heaney describes the joy of blackberrying beautifully in his poem, Blackberry Picking

“Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. ”

patch   Close up 1

This year, the abundance of berries is positively overwhelming. I live in a suburb of South Liverpool, not quite the Italian smallholding of my dreams, yet I can locate kilos of blackberries within a 10minute walk. The glory of the blackberry haul is a reason to be grateful for the moratorium on tidying up the edges of parks and cemeteries due to budget cuts. Good for us. Good for wildlife too.  If you are out blackberrying this week, remember the forager’s rule: don’t pick it all, leave plenty for others, including wildlife to enjoy.

I turned my first kilo of blackberries into blackberry curd – a variation on a theme first explored this year using the lovely strawberries from Claremont Farm (see Strawberry Delight post). I plan to ask my neighbours (nicely) for a few of their apples, and make my favourite ever crumble – Apple and Blackberry with the rest.

Recipes below:

blackb curd

Blackberry Curd

400g blackberries, rinsed in cold water to remove any occupants and well drained

Juice and zest of 1 orange

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

500g caster sugar

200g unsalted butter

300ml of beaten free range eggs (about 5)

First whizz the blackberries in a food processor to make a puree.  Add the juice and zest of the citrus fruits. In a microwavable bowl, combine the butter, sugar and blackberry mix. Heat in the microwave on full for 2 to 3 minutes until the butter has melted. Stir well and then pour in the beaten eggs. Microwave again on high, in bursts of 1 minute, stirring each time, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (you should be able to run your finger down and leave a line). Pour the mixture through a sieve to remove the blackberry seeds, and any bits of cooked egg that may have sneaked through. Pot into hot sterilized jars and store in the fridge once cool. Use to top homemade scones, swirl into Greek style yogurt, fill a cake or just spoon onto toast.

 

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

400g blackberries, rinsed and drained

3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced

175g demerara sugar

Topping:

175g cold unsalted butter

100g demerara sugar

100g plain flour

125g rolled or jumbo oats

Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/400F/ GM6

Toss the apple slices, blackberries and 175g of sugar together into a large pie or lasagne dish.

Cut butter into small chunks and then use the tip of your fingers to rub it into the  topping mix of flour, oats and sugar until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle this over the fruit in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes until the top is brown and the fruit is beginning to bubble through.

Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve with thick cream, custard or vanilla ice cream.