Hapless rhubarb

by , under food, recipes

So it’s that delightful season between spring and summer. There should be a name for it — “May” comes close but it’s not completely accurate every year, there’s usually some overlap between it and June, and sometimes it doesn’t start until May is halfway through. Anyway, there’s rhubarb in the market. I bought some earlier but that was too early and it had hardly any taste or colour. This batch was firm and convincingly red and squeaked when I cut it. Usually, when I prepare rhubarb, I cook it with a little water and rather a lot of sugar and a pinch of chalk to cut the oxalic acid, but this time I decided to try nuking it in the microwave to avoid adding water. After all, rhubarb contains quite enough water by itself! The too-early batch became so runny, and the custard I made to go with it so stiff, that I had pudding with rhubarb sauce instead of rhubarb with pouring custard. Yummy, though. Okay, the condition of the custard was probably my own fault because I was sloppy in levelling my tablespoons.

It should have been a warning that every single microwave recipe for rhubarb that I found on the internet called for added water too. Stubborn as I am, I did without anyway, and nuked it for 4 minutes with sugar and chalk sprinkled over. This left the rhubarb still hard, but lots of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Stir it, another 4 minutes, Some of the pieces were now softish, a few even falling apart, many still firm. Another 4 minutes. Not much change except that the falling-apart pieces had now fallen apart completely.

I capitulated and put the whole mess in a saucepan to cook until it looked as if everything was done. Made custard, which was again too firm but not as much too firm as the previous time. The rhubarb looked the way I wanted it, soft chunks with little extraneous liquid, but when I tried it some chunks were still hard. The taste was excellent, but the consistency very uneven. I ate portions of it nevertheless for a couple of days until I ran out of prepared custard.

Then it occurred to me that the hapless rhubarb might make good sherbet ice: the ice-cream parlor in town has rhubarb ice and that’s okay but a little bland, probably because they’re using immature rhubarb too. I blendered it until it was as smooth as it would get, with ginger syrup, not too much because there was already a lot of sugar in the rhubarb. Put it in the freezer, scraped and mixed with a fork at  half-hour intervals until the alarm went in the middle of a roleplaying session and I said “never mind”. I expected it to be strange but delicious.

And I was right. It has the proper rhubarb bite and it’s ever so slightly gingery. I think I’ll prefer a stronger ginger flavour but I don’t want it any sweeter, so next time (when I make it deliberately) I’ll grate some fresh ginger root into the rhubarb when I cook it. Microwave again to get the juice out, then cook in the juice, because when I’m going to put it in the blender anyway it doesn’t matter if it’s uneven.

  1. Heather Rose Jones

    Thanks for the explanation! In return, I’ll share my favorite rhubarb recipe. In my opinion, rhubarb and strawberries are a match made in heaven and I take advantage of the overlap in their seasons (though here in northern California “strawberry season” runs for about 9 months of the year). If I can get ripe enough strawberries, there’s no need for additional sweetening. Take approximately equal weights of very ripe strawberries and rhubarb (or slightly less rhubarb if the strawberries aren’t quite as sweet) and chop. Put in a saucepan with just the smallest amount of fruit juice or water necessary to cover the bottom of the pan, then cover and put on the lowest possible heat. When reduced to a pulp, season to taste.

    I’ve lost my taste for over-sweetened rhubarb via this recipe. It has a nice sour bite but doesn’t need anything else.

    • Irina

      Oh yes, strawberries!

      I’ve taken to buying other fruit than strawberries because all the girls have moved out and my other half can’t eat most strawberries (the pips bother him) but in a couple of weeks they’ll be practically giving them away in the market.

  2. Karin Margareta Almehed

    Thank you! I’ll try to remember this. Thanks to Heather too!

    I usually make crumble from rhubarb (we seem to have enomous amounts of it this year), with oat flakes and perhaps some nuts in the topping. Just a few days ago I got i tip from my sister — she said she mixes the rhubarb with frozen raspberries.


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