Tag Archives: british produce

Rhubarb Tart

Ah, spring is in the air. The blossom is out and it is getting warmer. We’ve had a couple of false starts, but the temperature is starting to creep upwards and the signs of the changing season are all around us. With the warmer weather, we also get the first English rhubarb.

Anyone who grew up in Britain will have remember this “fruit” from their childhood with a combination of fear and trepidation. While it should change from astringent to pleasantly tart through cooking with enough sugar, too often this ended up as a sour green-brown pulp, maybe drowned in lumpy custard if you were lucky. I also recall the alarming fact that you should never cook it in aluminium as it will dissolve the metal (*). Now, does all this sound appealing? Nope, thought not.

How times change. I’m mentioned the rediscovery of childhood favourites and traditional food before, and it seems rhubarb has been part of this, except that it is now featuring in more sophisticated guises, including (to my amazement) the rather marvellous Rhubarb Martini at London’s fashionable Skylon cocktail bar.

Here is my take on the old favourite, rhubarb tart. I had tried a recipe from Nigella Lawson last year, but it was way too creamy. My version has a very thin pastry shell, bigs up the proportion of tangy fruit, and replaces the lashings of rich, sweet mascarpone cream with a little lightly whipped cream. However, Nigella’s tip for preparing the fruit is excellent – rather than stewing, she recommends gently roasting the rhubarb in the oven with a little sugar, which means you end up with tender chunks of rhubarb which burst with flavour and have a positively fluorescent pink colour.

For the tart:

Step 1 – the fruit

• 800g pink rhubarb
• 100g sugar

Step 2 – the pastry:

• 150g plain flour
• 75g butter
• pinch salt
• 2 tablespoon icing sugar
• cold water (to bind – I used 4 scant tablespoons)

Step 3 – the cream filling:

• 300ml double cream
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• few drops vanilla extract

Start with the fruit: wash, dry and trim the rhubarb. Cut into 2cm pieces with a sharp knife. Put into a glass oven dish, sprinkle with the sugar and mix gently. Put into an oven at 120°C for around an hour. Watch it like a hawk – the rhubarb should be pink and tender, but not starting to brown. You may also want to open the oven mid-cooking and mix gently so that everything is coated in the rhubarb syrup. Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Next, the pastry: Use your fingers to combine the flour, salt, icing sugar and butter in a bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs. Now add cold water, one teaspoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together. Cover with film, and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll the chilled pastry as thinly as possible and use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed pie tin (try not to stretch it, otherwise it shrinks when you cook it). Put the lined tin into the freezer and allow to chill for 20 minutes. Bake blind at 150°C for around 25 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

For the cream filling: whisk the cream, sugar and vanilla lightly until it is thick-ish but still floppy.

To assemble the tart: Spoon the cream into the pastry shell and spread evenly. Spoon the cooled rhubarb onto the pie (a little at a time), and drizzle any remaining syrup over the tart.

Worth making? In my view, this is the best way to cook rhubarb. The result is so nice that even those otherwise traumatised by their childhood memories of mushy rhubarb will like it. Even if you don’t make the tart, this is a lovely way to prepare rhubarb for serving with yoghurt or ice-cream. Just don’t add too much sugar, so that the sharpness of the rhubarb shines through.

(*) This is what I learned as a child, and duly tried it with a saucepan in the hope that the rhubarb would dissolve the pan before my eyes. As it turns out, the myth is not as dramatic as reality. The rhubarb will discolour and take on a metallic taste, and you don’t really want a dose of aluminum with your rhubarb. Stick to glass pots!


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Jam tomorrow

This is sort of cheating…

Last summer, we went for a walk through Epping Forest near London and picked kilos of amazing brambles with our friend SF. We got them home, made bramble jelly, but it’s been hiding in the cupboard behind the rice ever since. SF has since moved back to New York and taken her jar with her – I’ve been told it is great, so I’m looking forward to today’s grand tasting.

Trees in Epping Forest, the frozen berries, the label and the jelly

Opened and tasted – amazing!!! Better than anything I’ve ever bought.


• 1.5kg brambles, gently washed (I successfully froze them for a week between picking and cooking)
• 2 large apples or a couple of handfuls of crab apples (washed and diced)
• 550ml water
• Juice of 1 lemon
• White sugar

Put the brambles, apples, water and lemon juice in a heavy-based pan, heating gently. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 25 minutes until the fruit is very soft.

Pour the mixture into a jelly bag or muslin cloth, and leave somewhere quiet for the juice to drip through the net. This should sit for at least 8 hours or overnight. If you want clear jelly, don’t squeeze. If you don’t care about cloudy jelly and want to win every drop of juice from your hard-won fruit, then squeeze as much as you want (*).

Now measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 450g of sugar. Put the juice and sugar into a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached – around 10-15 minutes.

Pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

* We opted for clear jelly, but there was a LOT of pulp left in the jelly bag, so we put it through a sieve, and boiled up the fruit pulp with some sugar and water for an improvised jam. I had a lot of thorns in my hands and was not going to let any fruit go to waste!

** To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.


The result was fantastic – rich and fruity, with the right balance between sweetness and sharpness.

I am glad this was as good as it is, but making fruit jelly is a right faff. Basically a LOT more work than jam, but with more mess, more waste and less jars of the good stuff at the end of the day. So no more jelly – this will be the year of just jam.


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Chestnut jam with tonka bean

I recently became the proud owner of a couple of pounds of Kent chestnuts. It’s just too cold and dark to make something as predictable as a nut loaf so I was on the  lookout for something more exciting. Then I remembered a recipe that I’d quickly scribbled down when visiting my friend S in Brussels – chestnut jam with tonka bean.

The mystery element here was the tonka(*). By chance (meaning “on purpose, for for the day I make the chestnut-tonka thing”) I have a jar of tonka beans at the back of the cupboard. The beans are dry, black and hard with a strong vanilla/tobacco/almond aroma. I tend to put two or three times the amount of spices in recipes as I like things to be flavourful and aromatic, but tonka seems so strong that it would be prudent to use the suggested half-teaspoon (on balance, the right call – the finished jam had a subtle marzipan-like flavour but was not overpowering).

* Tonka is prohibited for food use in the United States!


Set aside an afternoon for this – you will be back and forth to the kitchen for a couple of hours.

• 2 kg chestnuts
• 1-1.5 kg sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground tonka bean
• water

Make a cross on each chestnut (removing any bad ones) and boil for around 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and peel off the tough outer skin.

Return the chestnuts to a pan and boil for a further 45 minutes, and then drain and peel the inner skin (again removing any bad nuts).

Weigh the chestnuts, nothing the weight, and return to a pan with cold water (for each kilo of chestnuts, add 750 ml of water).

Gently warm the mixture, bring to the boil, and then purée with a hand blender (careful, it’s hot!). At this stage, it will look a rather unappealing grey-brown translucent goo.

Now add the sugar – add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the chestnuts (or less if you prefer a less sweet jam) and the ground tonka bean. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or until you have a thick paste which becomes firm when you put some in a saucer. Just remember that, unlike fruit jam, you won’t get a “set”. Once ready, put into sterile jars and seal.

Now enjoy the jam on crêpes, croissants or with yoghurt.

To sterilise jars: wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. Leave the jars in the warm (not hot!) oven until you need them, as the glass is less likely to crack from the hot jam if the glass is at a similar temperature. You should also sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling in a pot of hot water for five minutes.


All through the cooking process (a good few hours), I though “never again”. The chestnut purée was an unappealing grey sludge with little flavour. However, once the sugar and the tonka went in, the mixture transformed into the beautiful creamy confection I was hoping for and the whole house smelled of  marzipan. Today I finally had some on a croissant – and the result was spectacular. This is a keeper! And S will be getting a jar next time I am in Brussels.

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