Wednesday, July 13, 2011

the ruby goodness of rhubarb

awhile ago, i promised to do a rhubarb post. i love rhubarb. it's one of the first things to appear in the garden in the spring and it just keeps on giving all summer long, especially if you keep picking it. our place came with about a dozen rhubarb plants and once we moved them from the grassy area where they were being choked out and separated them a bit (into more like two dozen plants), they have thrived, as you can see above (in fact, i need to get out there and pick).

one of the most delicious things i've made is a rhubarb-vanilla cordial. as you already know, i've gone a bit mad for cordials this year. they're just so much nicer to serve to your guests than a regular old purchased soda. with all of these good things in the garden, it gets my creative juices flowing and i've been trying all sorts of combinations of things (coming soon, berries).  but this rhubarb-vanilla one is one we reach for again and again.

rhubarb-vanilla cordial

20-25 stalks of rhubarb
1 vanilla pod
a little bit of water in the bottom of the pan, just to get started.
500 grams sugar (2 cups)

clean and slice the rhubarb into manageable chunks. place it in a pot with the vanilla pod (split it open to release the little black flecks) and put a little water in the bottom of the pan, just to get things started. gently heat it and simmer until the rhubarb has gone completely soft. i usually wander away at this point, so i'm not sure how long this takes - maybe between 20 and 30 minutes. remove from the heat and let it cool down a bit. strain through a cheesecloth, collecting the beautiful pink juice. squeeze out the cloth, getting all of the good juices. you should have about a liter of juice, but if you don't, you can add water to get to that. if you have more than a liter, even better. return the juice to the pan and add sugar. i used organic sugar and as you can see above (my rhubarb cordial is next to the honey), my cordial is a bit dark. if you use regular white sugar, it will stay a bright pink. bring it to the boil again and then pour it into a sterilized, prepared bottle.

i often fish out the vanilla pod to be used again in another batch, as there's lots of goodness left in it and they're too precious to just throw away. you can also rinse it off and stick it in a jar with some sugar for a fragrant vanilla sugar.  and i give the rhubarb mash that's left over to the hens - they gobble it right up.

this week, i'm going to make a batch with a hunk of ginger instead of vanilla - i think rhubarb and ginger will be very nice together.

in my opinion, the most perfect companion to rhubarb is the strawberry and i've made this rhubarb-strawberry crisp half a dozen times during the month our strawberries were in season.  it's just as good with rhubarb by itself, but rhubarb and strawberries are a match made in heaven. in contrast to many crisps (or crumbles - not sure of the difference - do any of you have an opinion?) it has the topping on the bottom as a sort of crust as well. that makes the dish.  it's a variation of a recipe my mom sent to me and i'm not sure where it originated.

strawberry-rhubarb crisp

1 cup flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

mix together and place half of the mixture in an buttered baking dish (i use one that's ceramic and rectangular, but you could use a round tart dish as well).

4 cups fresh rhubarb (cubed) and strawberries.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 T. cornstarch
1 t. vanilla

in a saucepan, cook the fruit, sugar and water until softened and gently boiling. mix the cornstarch with a couple of tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the hot fruit mixture. add the vanilla and pour into your pan. put the remaining crust mixture on top.

optional: sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. bake at 180°C/350°F until the top is golden and crispy.

serve in a bowl with a bit of fresh cream on top.

whether it's an everyday evening treat or for guests, it can't go wrong. 


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