Finally, my first proper harvest of the year (not including overwintering leeks and parsnips). It’s not huge, it’s not fancy, but that’s okay.
We inherited a whole row of rhubarb when we took over our plot, and by the looks of it, it had been growing quite happily by itself, undisturbed for quite some time. I think without anyone to pick it, it had gathered in strength, spread itself out in the available space and the plants grew huge. The problem was, we found we couldn’t grow anything else around it, because it took so many nutrients and moisture from the surrounding soil, it really was a thug. Eventually we decided it was too much, so out it came (with quite some effort). We saved the largest root to replant in a space behind the shed, and for a while we weren’t sure if it would recover. But thankfully it did. Last year, I left it well alone to build it’s strength back up again, so I’ve been looking forward to it being back on the menu again this year.
Rhubarb is technically a herb (part of the sorrel family), but we tend to treat like a fruit. It can be sour, but with a bit (or a lot) of sugar or honey it transforms into something else. It pairs wonderfully with ginger, almond, vanilla, or other sweeter tasting fruit such as strawberries. It’s robust enough to hold it together under a crumble or cobbler topping, yet can also be cooked right down to a sweet sticky compote to add with cream to a fool. I once tried making a rhubarb chutney, but it wasn’t the greatest success to be honest, then another time I made rhubarb and vanilla jam and it was delicious. It takes a bit of experimentation.
As with this recipe from Jack Monroe. It’s probably sacrilege to not make a crumble with your first harvest, but it’s been so warm lately, it’s not exactly crumble and custard sort of weather. I wanted to make more of a cake (which I will get around to shortly) but on looking through my cookbooks I felt intrigued by Jacks soda bread with rhubarb and ginger, and it just so happened I had a piece of fresh ginger that needed using, so decided to give it a go. It’s also good to have a less sugary way of using rhubarb.
credit: Jack Monroe, A Year in 120 Recipes.
- Juice of half a lemon (I only had an orange in the fridge, worked just as well)
- 300ml of milk (I personally found 200ml to be adequate, you may need more)
- 350g plain flour
- 1 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 100g fresh rhubarb
- a thumb of fresh ginger
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
- Squeeze the lemon/orange juice into the milk and set aside.
- Put the flour and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
- Finely slice the rhubarb and peel and grate the ginger. Mix them into the flour.
- Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in most of the sour milk and mix to form a dough. Use your judgement – if the mixture is cracking and crumbly, add the rest of the milk, or if it’s very sticky, add more flour.
- Dust a loaf tin with flour and drop in the batter (I found the word batter here misleading, I think it should be more of a slightly sticky dough). Shake from side to side gently to roughly fill the tin (I would say to push it gently in to either end, shaking did nothing for mine).
- Score a deep line down the centre and dust with a little extra flour.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for around 40 mins and leave to cool slightly before serving.
Jacks Tip: Serve sliced, thick and chunky, with a smear of honey and some smoked mackerel fillet perched on top.
I have included pictures here of how mine looked before and after baking in case it helps.
Don’t expect it to taste sweet like cake, it is savoury, and a tiny bit bland, I wonder if a pinch of salt may help. I think would be nice with a bit of strong cheese, or sweetened with honey as Jack suggests. Do try it.