‘I prefer custard on mine’ …. I hear you reply!
Popping by the allotment, it is lovely to see the knobbly buds of rhubarb starting to push their way through. There is a rabbit nibbling problem at present, and like an arm wrestle between vegetable and animal, currently teetering in the rabbits favour, I’m confident that once the rhubarb gets a spurt on, the plants will win hands down and see off the fluffy predator.
The plot is fast beginning to resemble the national rhubarb collection, as I just can’t resist adding another variety when I come across one, conveniently forgetting that each crown will eventually take up a wacking great amount of space as it becomes established. Ho hum, who cares? All these varieties rarely mean much difference as regards taste, but for a rhubarb nerd it means you can admire the subtle variations of habit and leaf shape.
One variety I sought out especially, having grown it before on my London plot, is Livingstone, named after Red Ken. This variety is particularly useful as it has had the dormancy bred out of it, so gives a crop right through until the first frosts, unlike the others that you should stop picking in the summer months. You aren’t likely to find Livingstone for sale as it is produced under license so shouldn’t be propogated as the rights belong to the breeder, who I bought the original cultivar from, then years later tracked him down again and begged him to send me another crown (it is amazing how begging usually does the trick).
This is why there is no need to import rhubarb in the UK. We have the varieties available to harvest, virtually all year round. It always amazes me when I see rhubarb for sale in Tesco imported from New Zealand. My nearest independent greengrocers, usually sell Dutch rhubarb as the much lauded Yorkshire stuff is hard to source at the market or when found is too expensive for them. Now in my second year on the plot, I should be self sufficient in the stuff very soon, so such concerns will be for others to wrangle over.
It’s great that rhubarb is seeing a renaissance. I hadn’t eaten forced rhubarb until fairly recently, so I loved it before all the guff about not stewing it and that only the sweeter pink stems are worth having, bla-di-bla. The pinker it is the prettier it looks and you can juice it too, but for a diehard rhubarb fan brought up on stronger stuff, it is simply an hors d’oeuvres, leading the way to the main course.
Luckily, as one of my favourite flavours, when it comes to rhubarb, if you say ‘glut’ then I say ‘bring it on’. I may well become famous for my rhubarb ketchup, one day, but in the mean time here is a recipe for pink grapefuit, rhubarb and cardamom marmalade that I developed last year that usefully has a longer seasonal ‘window’ that the usual Seville orange sort and also just happens to taste great. The recipe doubles up fine if you want to make a bigger batch.
PINK GRAPEFRUIT, RHUBARB & CARDAMOM MARMALADE
Makes approx 1.3Kg (3 lbs)
0.5Kg (1.1 lb) rhubarb
1kg (2.2lbs) sugar
juice of 1 lemon
seeds from 10-13 cardamom pods, crushed
3 pink grapefruits, approx 750g (1.65 lb )
Rinse the rhubarb stems and chop into 1cm (1/2 in) evenly sized pieces. Place them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Tie the cardamom seeds in a piece of muslin and push them inbetween the rhubarb, then cover with baking paper or clingfilm and leave for a few hours or overnight, so the juices begin to soak into the sugar.
Wash the grapefruit and remove the peel with a sharp knife or potato peeler, leaving as much of the pith on the fruit as possible. Finely cut the peel into shreds. Squeeze the fruits and collect the juice and tie the remaining pulp, pith and pips together in a muslin bundle. Place the shreds, juice and bundle in a pan, add 1.4ltr (2 1/2pt) water and simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until the peel is cooked through and tender. Remove the muslin bundle and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from it back into the pan, then discard. Pour the peel through a sieve and collect and measure the liquid, adding more water if necessary to make it up to 1ltr (1 3/4 pts).
Prepare the jars and canner if you plan to hot water process the marmalade, otherwise, make sure your jars and lids are clean and place them in a warm oven to heat and sterilise. Place the cooked shreds, cooking liquid and the contents of the rhubarb bowl in a preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook on a high heat until setting point is reached, that is when a small blob of the syrup on a cold plate quickly forms a skin when you run your finger across the surface. Remove the cardamom bundle.
Fill the jars, leaving the appropriate amount of headroom for canning, and seal. Hot water process for 10 minutes, then remove from the canner, leave till cold and test that the lids are sealed. Label and store. Alternatively, without canning, place waxed paper discs on the surface of the marmalade and seal. This marmalade should store safely without canning, but hot water processing will make doubly sure that your jam will keep and store without a hitch.