[image by Fiona Hallinan]
It’s been an impatient wait for spring’s field rhubarb – the first Irish fruit since the autumn…
The bliss of the initial rush of crumbles and pies is fading. Now the sunshine loiters and with it an opportunity to offer rhubarb a floral accent – lemon zest, honey, almonds, mint, orange. There’s only rhubarb and sugar in the recipes below, with that there is plenty of potential to play
Get hold of as much rhubarb as you can. Wash it, chop it and put it in a pan with the same weight in water and a bit more than half the weight in sugar. Bring it to the boil and let it simmer slowly till tender. Turn the heat of and leave it be for an hour or so. Then strain it and bottle it – if you’ve no fine sieve, strain it through a clean handkerchief/cloth/t-shirt. With the left over rhubarb gunk you could make a curd – blitz it up and add a few drops of water. Then, over a low heat, fold some unsalted butter through it. Or you could leave it gunky. A spoonful with some yogurt and roasted oats makes a fine breakfast
Chop your rhubarb – six or so stalks should be about right for a regular sized jam jar – pop it in a pot with half a handful of sugar and bring it to a medium heat. Cook away for ten minutes or so, stirring now and again. When most of the rhubarb is falling apart (but some still has a bit of bite) strain it through a sieve to get as much of the clear juice that will come naturally. With an eagle eye reduce the juice until it’s syrupy. Take it off the heat and mix through your rhubarb. Taste it and if it needs a little more sugar stir it through on a low heat. Then it’ll be ready to jar.
Put a tightly packed layer of rhubarb in a baking tray and sprinkle generously with sugar. If the rhubarb is not wet from washing splash it with water. It will need ten minutes, covered, inside an oven that’s 190 degrees c. Then roast it, coverless, with the occasional stir until it begins to golden. A fair amount of the water from the raw rhubarb will have evaporated so the flavour will be intense, and likely more sour than you’d expect. Anyhow, while still hot blitz it up and trickle honey into it to taste
Rhubarb is as keen a companion as any to our cheap and delicious oily fish (trout, mackerel, pilchards etc.). Sweat some sliced onions in butter until completely tender. Then add raw rhubarb (sliced lengthwise and cut into two inch lengths), a generous bunch of thyme and grind of black pepper and a sliver of orange zest. Mix through on the heat and then stuff inside your fishies. Smother them in a little more butter, salt and pepper. Pop them in a parcel of baking paper with a glug of white wine and bake at a medium high heat.
(an as yet untried idea: sliced and grilled over a fire, with a very slowly braised pork shoulder, boiled baby potatoes, and chopped curly parsley)
The cordial has endless booze potential, a favourite being with gin, fizzy water and a squeeze of lime. Here’s a recipe for something a little less jazzy which’d be just about ready for drinking in the meagre months of February and March.
The quantities are such that a 5 litre plastic water bottle can be used for the fermenting.
3 litres of water
1 ¼ litres of chopped rhubarb
¾ litre of honey
Half a sachet of wine yeast (http://thehomebrewcompany.ie)
Heat the water until simmering, and stir in the honey until dissolved. Then pop in your rhubarb and take of the heat.
Activate the yeast in some warmed water and a pinch of sugar.
Once the rhubarb mixture has cooled stir in the yeast.
Funnel everything into your container, seal, and punch a thin whole in the lid so it won’t blow up on you.
You’ll want a speedy fermentation, so the rhubarb hasn’t time to get too funky. For this to happen, you’ll need it to be in quite warm conditions, so rap the bottle up in your winter jackets and put it in a dark, warm room.
It should be ready in about two weeks. When the bubbles have stopped rising, and the sweetness has all but gone (taste through a straw), it will be time to strain and bottle.