It’s great to eat local, and you can’t get much more local than the garden.
My own endeavours at horticulture have proved decidedly lacklustre. However, I’m lucky to live where I do. Local gardeners, and poultry keepers, provide a great supply of really local produce. Those hand-made For Sale signs that spring up on footpaths and in front gardens in the summer always draw me in for further investigation.
This week, on route to Boy’s tennis camp in Purton, we bagged ourselves a bargain; a giant marrow and a handful of rhubarb for less than a pound.
I wasn’t sure about the marrow, but the rhubarb suggested numerous possibilities for a sweet and comforting dessert; a stalwart crumble, mixed with almonds and berries, encased in buttery puff pastry and topped with lashings of ice-cream, or a minimalist scoop of vibrant sorbet.
There are two types of rhubarb; natural outdoor rhubarb and the forced variety. My purchase, of course, was the free-range, home-grown variety. Garden rhubarb heralds the start of spring. Its season stretches through the warmer months, with a tendency to become coarser in late summer.
Forced rhubarb, on the other hand, is available from January onwards. It comes in time for all those comforting crumbles and compotes, a harbinger of warmth and the longer days ahead. Forced rhubarb is grown in the dark. Reportedly harvested by candle-light to keep it tender, it has yellow leaves and fucshia pink stems. It is often grown in the so-called Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire, a nine square mile area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. Its stems have to be removed from the root by hand, a labour intensive process. A combination of factors which explains why Waitrose rhubarb (£2.60 for three stems) costs eight times as much as my humble purchase.
We wanted something slightly more adventurous than crumble with our Purton rhubarb. I’ve recently been working my way through Miranda Gore-Browne’s Biscuit, and her recipe for rhubarb crumble biscuits had the added benefit of providing something for the following day’s lunchbox as well.
For the base
- 115 g unsalted butter
- 115 g demerara sugar, or palm sugar (this is what I use, for its lower GI)
- 1 large egg (or two small bantams’ eggs)
- 180 g plain flour
- 1 tbs vanilla extract
- zest of half an orange
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 150 g fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces
For the crumble topping
- 30 g unsalted butter
- 30 g plain flour
- 40 g demerara or palm sugar
- 20 g caster sugar
- 1 tsp orange zest
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/ gas mark 4. Line two baking trays with well-greased baking paper. (I usually liberally brush with olive oil).
- Cream together the butter and sugar.
- Then beat in the egg.
- Add the flour, bicarbonate, zest and vanilla essence and combine well.
- Fold the rhubarb into the mixture.
- Mould into a dough (use floured hands, although this bit can be messy).
- Put 10-12 dollops of the mixture at least 3cm apart onto the trays.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour making breadcrumbs (just as you would with a regular crumble). Then add the sugar and zest.
- Take the biscuits out of the oven. Smooth them down gently with a palette knife, then sprinkle the crumble mix over the top of each biscuit and return to the oven for a further five minutes or until golden round the edges.
- Remove from the oven.
Allow the biscuits to cool a little if you like, but these are best served warm. Pair with some soft fruit and icecream, yoghurt or crème anglaise.
For more inspiration on how to use rhubarb, why not visit Great British Chefs.