Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rhubarb Tart and Trivia - with a Twist

This is rhubarb season and ours is growing like a weed with all the rain. I made a few lovely rhubarb tarts over the past week and I must say there's great satisfaction to be had in making something that's picked fresh from the garden - from veg plot to fork in about an hour! We have these rhubarb stools in their present bed near the house, beside a high stone wall, for the two years. As this is their third year in this plot, according to the anorak's guide to rhubarb, we should consider dividing and replanting next year.

I discovered this strange lotus-like bud growing in the middle of one of the plants last week, and on asking hubby and Google, it seems it is a flower bud. This will have to be nipped in the bud, literally and metaphorically, as it will leach all the energy that should go into the stalks. It doesn't seem to mark the end of its life, but is a feature of mature plants so probably needs replanting next year.

It is a fascinating plant as it thrives on repeated frost exposure - no problem there so - and it can be forced to grow out of season either in the ground using a forcer pot, or as I used, an upturned bucket. This gives small leaves and pale whitish stalks, which are less acidic. They don't look very attractive, but these anaemic stalks are sweeter and more tender, thus more desirable and probably give their grower bragging rights. The redder the stalks, the more acidic and bitter the flavour. That's easily countered with plenty of sugar in the finished dish.

I always handle rhubarb with great respect as the leaves are toxic - they contain oxalic acid which is a cousin of cyanide but you would have to eat about 5kg/11lbs of leaves to get the lethal dose - which I can't imagine anyone having the will or the stamina to do! The cooked stalks are non-toxic, lucky for me or any rhubarb fans out there.

For anyone who's interested I discovered (through the miracle of Google) that contrary to my erroneous belief, you can compost rhubarb leaves. I have been dumping them with the non-compostable garden waste, but no more. They are destined for the green compost bin which has yielded a wonderfully rich dark humus-y compost now enriching our polytunnel strawberries. It is a bit home-made looking with recognisable eggshell bits and teabags throughout, but these don't seem to hinder it and the strawberries are in full flower, with the promise of a rich harvest in a couple of months.

That's enough rhubarb trivia to keep any anorak happy for some time; there is so much out there on the web that it's apparent there are plenty of anoraks abroad, much to my amazement. This link has everything you ever wanted to know about rhubarb but were afraid to ask, and I think it must come from someone who has waayyy too much free time!

Time to turn to the primary purpose of this post, the recipe for one my favourite tarts (besides apple). The twist in the tale is that I have made this one with Self-Raising flour instead of plain flour, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked very well, giving a light shortbread pastry that is subtly different from the plain flour pastry, with a biscuit-y texture. I hope you enjoy it!



8ozs/250gm Self-Raising Flour

4ozs/125gm butter or hard margarine (preferably butter)

1oz/25gm icing sugar

1 egg

Rhubarb stalks - about 4-6, washed and diced into 1cm/half-inch pieces
Sugar to taste

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/350degrees Fahrenheit


Using pastry attachment on food processor (I have one on my nice new Kenwood and it is still a treat, and makes great pastry!) mix flour and butter to crumbly texture.

If no processor, rub in butter to flour lightly with fingertips.

Add icing sugar
Add egg to bind and knead lightly
Roll pastry to size of pie dish on floured surface
Line base of dish
Fill with rhubarb pieces

Sprinkle liberally with sugar
Cover with pastry rolled out to size
Moisten edges of pastry and seal
Decorate top if desired - leaf or flower pattern is nice
Bake in oven until golden brown, reduce heat to 150 degrees Centigrade/300 degrees Fahrenheit after 15 mins.

Serve warm with lashings of whipped cream and enjoy with the ubiquitous nice cuppa tea!
Cool on wire rack, sprinkle with icing sugar


Jeannette StG said...

Thanks Catherine, I always wanted to make one, but didn't get to it, because I had no recipe! (I know, just too lazy to look for a recipe on line) But thanks, you leave me no excuse to finally make it:) - I love the tart taste of the rhubarb.

Irene said...

I love rhubarb and have never eaten it in a pie, just plain. I can't eat your lovely pie now, because of my gastric band, but I sure can eat it plain. I have to remember to look for it when I'm next in the store. I had quite forgotten about this old vegetable from my youth until this post. Thanks for reminding me of it. I can taste it now. long as it's just a bit sour.

Jo said...

Hi Catherine; what a wonderfully interesting post with this delicious recipe. I did a double take when I saw the bulb growing in the middle of your rhubarb plant. I will check mine as the winter starts in case it also sprouts this! I've had my plant for 15 years! I have copied and pasted your recipe onto a document and will make the tart this weekend. Your blog is so fresh and easy to follow. Hugs

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, I heard on a radio programme about flowers on rhubarb this year, no satisfactory reason was put forward but maybe because we have such a proliferation of rhubarb everywhere this year it could be a rhubarb phenonomenenen...! Do you put icing sugar in the pastry, that was not just a typo?
I logged onto the Times article as I had not seen it, an excellent piece, thnaks for the link

diane b said...

A very interesting post and blog. I love rhubarb but BB doesn't so I tend not to cook any. Anyway he is the main cook so fat chance of rhubarb pie for me. My mum used to make delicious rhubarb and custard. I'm trying to grow vegies but not with much success yet.

Reader Wil said...

Catherine, it looks delicious! You must have a large garden. I love rhubarb too, but I have to buy it. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your comment. Yes I understand that the colour orange has an unpleasant meaning in Ireland. But our crownprince is married to a Roman Catholic wife Maxima.No problem!
The young man who drove the car was a lonesome, quiet person. He was always polite and kept himself to himself. He lost his job and his house and was so desperate that he wanted to draw the attention to his situation. His parents were so shocked by their son's action. They get psychiatric help, like the relatives of the victims ans the bystanders of the tragedy. He must have been in a psychosis. I know how difficult life is for those patients, especially for the quiet ones.

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the comments and sorry it takes me so long to get back to responding - it's been a pretty busy few days!

JEANETTE - glad you enjoyed it and that you actually get to make it - it is a really simple recipe as you don't need to do anything but chop the rhubarb and sprinkle the sugar! I surprised myself by learning more stuff on rhubarb like the compostablility of the leaves! So blogging is good for your (and my)brain!
Thanks for visiting, I must check out your blog later today, we are going out to lunch at a friends now.

Catherine said...

IRENE - Glad you liked the post and hope that you get to enjoy some rhubarb even if you have a gastric band - sounds like you can eat little and often, if I understand how those things work. Hope you are good, what a dreadful Koninginnedag event in Apeldoorn, we saw it on TV here and it is really sad to see such random acts of violence that kill innocent bystanders. I have been busy but will try to catch up on blogging tomorrow.

Catherine said...

JO - yes that bulb was pretty unusual, so I picked it out and then harvested the rest of the rhubarb from that plant for some tarts and it is back to ground level now, will be curious to see if it will grow again this season or if I have to split it for next year. Great taste though, fresh rhubarb, and I mixed some frozen strawberries through one tart yesterday which became soggy on defrosting (they'd frozen in the fridge, must turn down the thermostat!) and were only good for cooking so that is a lovely combo.
Thanks for visiting the blog!

Catherine said...

Hi PEGGY - thanks for the comment on the Times links, had to review that post comment to see exactly which one it was - Fintan O'Toole - he is a very good columnist. As for the rhubarb, no that wasn't a typo about the icing sugar, it is in the pastry. I put about an oz. of icing sugar through the crumbled pastry before adding the egg if it is for a tart, omit if making pastry for savoury dishes, quiche etc. So then I sprinkle icing sugar on the finished product as well. Oh dear sounds very calorific!
Didn't hear that radio prog on flowers in rhubarb, learn something new each day! I plan to split the plants for next year to have even more, as I am using a lot of it!

Catherine said...

Hi DIANE - thanks for the comment - isn't rhubarb and custard real comfort food and delicious? I love it and it brings me back to my childhood as my mother made it for me frequently. I make tarts and sometimes stew it for dessert and I make rhubarb and ginger jam if I have a glut. That's a lovely combo as is strawberry and rhubarb as I wrote in a comment to Jo above.
Love your blog on your family travels. what another world it was in your mother's day!

Catherine said...

WIL - glad you liked the post, as for the garden, it is a large enough one, about one-third of an acre - no idea what that is in sq. metres, will have to ask hubby to convert, as I have an idea in Imperial old measures what it is - roods and perches I believe they're called but I would have to check the house deeds for that! It's about 150m. long and you can judge the width if you look at photos on Catherine's slide show on the sidebar at the photos of the garden in the snow - the rhubarb patch is about a third of the bed to the right of the path from the patio to the garden shed.
Agree about the orange, there is no similar connotations in the Netherlands , it just has become a sectarian football here among certain groups. I remember reading the near-hysteria when Willem-Alexander married Maxima -she was like Princess Diana in her popular appeal and she seems to be as popular today. Her religion should be a non-issue. It is very sad for that Tates guy's family and I see now that six are dead from their injuries including a policeman. How awful for the country as well as the families. There was a piece on yesterday's Irish Times on this link -
I loved your photos of the houses in your area - very contemporary and I love the wacky Dutch houses in Helmond ( I think) the cube ones. They are in Rotterdam as well I think. Not sure I'd like to live in one!

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

Love this post! We have (accidentally) three rhubarb plants in our garden. I mean "accidentally" in that I thought I had killed one of them and so bought more, but they have more lives than cats, and ... well, you know.

I got the "flower" looking thing for the first time ever this year, and was rather non-plussed by it; thanks for educating me. Your rhubarb tart looks glorious ... may I come have tea with you? :) I think you've inspired me post-wise again. I have a very old recipe book with a strange-ish rhubarb crumble recipe in it that I may have to post; the crumble topping is made with no butter, but with an egg instead. I'm rambling again, aren't I? Happy Monday! kristin

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

p.s., Sorry -- Catherine, would you consider sharing a recipe for rhubarb and custard? I've always wanted to try it, but it's not something you EVER see here in the States -- or at least, not my part of the States! kristin

Catherine said...

Hi KRISTIN - thanks for your response -and welcome to tea if you are ever over this way! I will try to post a rhubarb crumble recipe - the simplest one I have is 6oz. plain flour, 2oz. each of sugar and butter - bingo! Works a treat and tastes lovely. I will do the rhubarb and custard at the weekend if I can - I should really do egg custard though I confess to cheating somewhat with Bird's Custard Powder which is quite good comfort food and an institution in these parts! The stewed rhubarb's a cinch, just slice and stew gently with a bare drop of water to cover the base of the pan and prevent sticking. Add buckets of sugar to get rid of the sourness when it's softened. Enjoy it! I will take pix for a post soon!
Good to share these culinary classics with you, specially if they aren't widely known. all the best and happy cooking! Back to work tomorrow after a long May Bank Holiday weekend. Love them!

Jeanne said...

I love rhubarb. Maybe when I can get some here I'll try your recipe. Asparagus is the first crop of the season around here. Enjoyed some on Sunday.