W hen I was growing up, everyone had a rhubarb plant in the back yard. Dormant in winter, come spring the crimson stalks of the wonderfully named rheum rhabarbarum would shoot up, prompting cooks everywhere to get cracking in the kitchen.
My mother was no exception. For as long as our duo of plants lasted, stewed rhubarb sweetened with honey and dolloped over Weetbix sent us off to school. While we grappled with multiplication tables and John and Janet, mum was turning out pies, puddings and crumbles to top us up at night.
Food fashions are often mysterious, and somewhere along the line this deliciously tart fruit (technically a vegetable) dropped off the radar. Not so long ago, when a trendy chef put rhubarb pure on the map, the wheel turned full circle. Fresh rhubarb is back, along with a newcomer - chopped rhubarb in vacuum packs.
The chef teamed it with grilled salmon. Brilliant. Likewise trout. Or you could add a dash of orange juice and serve over duck breasts or roast pork. Rhubarb also goes well with soft white cheeses. For sweets, try custard, citrusy puddings, apples, strawberries, blueberries, plums, ginger, honey, crme fraiche, vanilla ice cream, cream, yoghurt or sour cream.
Stewed rhubarb, or rhubarb pure if you prefer to whizz it smooth, makes a superb ice cream. Stir it into an egg custard, then churn in an ice-cream machine in the usual way.
Fools, a very British dessert, have been around for at least 400 years. (The word comes from the French fouler, to mash.) The earliest recorded recipes used no fruit, thanks to a widespread fear that fruit was unhealthy.
Over time, the fool's customary sharp fruit - be it gooseberries, raspberries, rhubarb or damsons - was mashed to make it "safe", and thickening agents such as eggs, breadcrumbs and semolina were dropped, leaving only cream.
Today's recipe is a classic that I grew up with - a sunshiny pud to celebrate the arrival of spring. True to the name of this column, it is easy to make and, quite simply, delicious.
RHUBARB AND ORANGE FOOL
400g ripe rhubarb stalks
40g caster sugar
juice of 1 orange
15g icing sugar
Trim ends off rhubarb and chop into roughly thumb-sized pieces.
Place in a non-stick or stainless steel saucepan with sugar and orange juice.
Put pan on a low heat and bring fruit to a gentle simmer.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until fruit is tender but some pieces still hold their shape (for texture) - about eight minutes.
Remove from heat, allow to cool completely, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Pour cream into another bowl, add icing sugar and whip with an electric beater until mixture forms soft peaks.
To serve, fold whipped cream into the rhubarb, or layer rhubarb and cream in dessert glasses, finishing with whipped cream. Refrigerate before serving.
Both bowl and beaters must be scrupulously clean or cream will not whip.
- © Fairfax NZ News