RHUBARB is a wonderful ingredient which we have access to in abundance in Scotland.
In fact, it was introduced to the British table in the 18th century by Sir Alexander Dick of Prestonfield in Edinburgh. Since then it has become a popular and fantastic addition to Scottish cooking.
Rhubarb is a unique ingredient as, although it is often thought of and treated like a fruit, it’s really a vegetable. And a very resilient one at that; which makes it suitable for growing conditions in Scotland. Not only is it resistant to the cold but it actually requires a period of frost in winter to produce the best stalks.
The approach of Mother’s Day seems the perfect excuse to make the most of this bright, colourful spring favourite to spoil mum and say thanks.
The rhubarb you can get your hands on at this time of year is the forced variety, which is in season from around early February until March, before wild rhubarb takes over. Forced rhubarb has a wonderful sweet flavour and a lovely pink blush colour which looks fantastic on the plate no matter what you’re making with it. The key is all in the preparation. It’s important to wash and trim the rhubarb first, and make sure you discard the leaves, as these should never be eaten. Rhubarb is a delicate ingredient, so make sure to cook it very briefly to avoid it becoming mushy.
Forced rhubarb is perfect for delicate desserts like this simple but stunning rhubarb jelly, because it presents a very gentle, elegant sourness which only requires very light cooking or preparation. You will find you need to add a little sweetness to balance out the sour taste.
Another thing to remember is that rhubarb is packed with juice, which it releases readily when cooking. That means you shouldn’t need to add much, if any liquid, so if you’re trying out some recipes, always remember to measure carefully.
Rhubarb can work well in a main dish as well as a dessert. If you want to keep it really simple, you can make up a big batch of rhubarb jam, jelly or compote which is an ideal complement to some savoury dishes. A slightly sweetened rhubarb compote can be delicious with seasonal mackerel, roast pork or lamb.
Even if you don’t have time to prepare a meal, I always think that home-made gifts are a great idea, and so much nicer when you’ve given a little thought to making them.
Baking these little rhubarb jammy dodgers is a fun and playful way to get the children involved in creating a Mother’s Day gift, and they’ll be certain to bring a smile to any mum’s face next Sunday.
For the rhubarb consommé
3 gelatine leaves – soaked until soft
Place the rhubarb and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan and slowly heat until all the juice is released. Pass through a sieve and allow to cool slightly, saving small pieces of rhubarb for a garnish. Add the gelatine and pour into six small individual moulds to set.
For the meringues and garnish
6 large egg whites
1½ tsp white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
slices of orange
sprigs of mint
Heat the oven to 100C/Gas Mark ¼. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Using an electric mixer or electric hand whisk, beat the egg whites with the wine vinegar until they begin to froth and increase in volume.
Now whisk in two-thirds of the sugar, a little at a time. When stiff peaks form, add the remaining sugar and sift in the cornflour. Fold in, using a large metal spoon, until just incorporated. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag and start to pipe small kisses on the baking sheet. Place these into the oven and let the meringue kisses dry out for 35-45 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave them in there with the door open to cool completely.
When the jelly is set, top with mini meringues and garnish with pieces of cooked rhubarb, thin slices of orange and a few sprigs of mint.
For the shortbread
25g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
For the filling
50g caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3. Mix the flour, sugar and butter. Add the eggs and salt and combine. Rest at room temperature for two hours. Roll out the mix until it is ½ cm thick. Use pastry cutters to create two sets of biscuits – one set plain, and the other with a window cut out (see picture right). Bake for approximately 10 minutes at 170C/Gas Mark 3 until golden brown.
Stew the rhubarb and sugar together until cooked down to a pulp. Once chilled, place a dollop of the rhubarb mix on each plain biscuit. Then place a cut-out biscuit on top of each to create a sandwich. Dust with sugar and serve.