rhubarb

On the allotment: July 17

teaselsWhen we took on the allotment we promised ourselves one thing: we would not allow it to become a source of stress.

Easier said than done.

Last week we needed to propagate the strawberries, there was sowing to do for autumn planting and a third of the plot still consisted of nose-high grass.

overgrown

I had a brief moment of head-clenching tension and then thought: enough.

We are privileged enough not to depend on this land for food. The crops will become an increasingly important part of our diet but one of the main reasons we love this plot is that as well as helping us learn to grow vegetables, it is enriching our lives and refreshing our spirits, forcing us to move away from the computer screens that dominate the rest of our time.

So we took the decision to focus only on clearing the rest of the ground and digging out new beds. That will allow us to have a proper planting plan next year.

There is still plenty to do.

brambles

weed heap

I’m a bit sad that this means we might not have our own strawberries next year, but that’s another thing about growing food: it forces you to take a longer perspective. We might have to buy them from the greengrocer for a season, but we can hope for a crop in 2016.

It’s a difficult mental adjustment when you are used to daily, even hourly, deadlines. But it feels like a healthy kind of discipline.

This has been a good fortnight for flowers …

courgette flower

Courgette

French bean

French bean

Tomato

Tomato

… and a very bad one for rhubarb.

rhubarb

Things are even worse now than in this picture: almost all the leaves have dropped off and the stems have turned a nasty shade of brown. I’ve been Googling away to try and identify the problem and was a bit ashamed to turn up site after site proclaiming that rhubarb is a very easy crop to grow and poses virtually no problems.

But I fear we may have crown rot. Does anyone else have experience of this, or suggestions for a different diagnosis? I’m tempted to spread a thick layer of manure all around and hope for the best, but I don’t want to waste the stuff if the rhubarb is really a lost cause.

Linking up with Soulemama, who is doing interesting things with a bumper bean crop.

Rhubarb rhythms

After eleven years of living in this beautiful corner of Sheffield, I have learnt the rhythm of spring in our woods. It goes like this: celandine, wild garlic, wood anemone, bluebell.

IMG_3099

Celandine

IMG_3174

Wood anemone

We’re into wood anemone time at the moment, and the wild garlic is also thick on the ground. Soon it will be time for a bit of foraging but first I need to pay homage to that other great harbinger of spring in Yorkshire: forced rhubarb.

rhubarb

I’ve written enthusiastically about this delicacy before, and a couple of years ago I posted this recipe for sharlotka, which I still rate highly. However, when we were in Edinburgh recently, some lovely friends produced a brilliantly simple rhubarb dessert that I just have to share here. Delicious results from very little time in the kitchen, and also including a hidden ginger nut – what could be better?

I’ve tweaked it a bit, drawing on a recipe for rhubarb syllabub from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, which is one of my go-to books when I’m trying to decide what to do with a vegbox, or a glut of vegetables from the garden. Highly recommended.

Sam and Claire’s rhubarb and ginger layer

To serve 6

  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 6 stems young pink rhubarb, about 500g
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 gingernut biscuits
  • Greek yoghurt

You will also need six ramekin dishes

ingredients

stewing

Warm the orange juice and sugar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Cut the rhubarb into thumb-length segments and cook in the orange juice with the zest, cardamom and star anise for 8-10 minutes, then cool. Reduce the liquid by lifting out the rhubarb pieces and boiling the juice until it becomes syrupy.

Put a ginger biscuit in the bottom of each ramekin and spoon the rhubarb over the top. Finish with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and refrigerate before serving.

finished1

Tastes as though it took ages.

best of Yorkshire

After nearly ten years in Sheffield, I still get excited about the first Yorkshire rhubarb. Forced in dark sheds on farms in the famous Rhubarb Triangle (roughly between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield), it comes out the most glorious shade of pink.

I love the contrast with the yellowy, crumpled leaves.

This delicate, early crop is quite different from the coarse stuff that comes along later. The challenge is always to find a recipe that does it justice. It’s pretty much perfect when simply roasted with sugar and a vanilla pod; however this year I experimented a bit and came up with something I think is just as good.

I got the idea from Liz, who had in turn adapted it from Smitten Kitchen.

Behold: Rhubarb Sharlotka.

This is a winner on all counts. It tastes fabulous and really lets the rhubarb flavour sing. It is quick and easy to make. Also, unbelievably, it is cake without the calories. Or with fewer calories, anyway. No fat, apart from what is in the eggs, and only a small amount of flour. I had to bulk out the rhubarb with a cooking apple. Rhubarb and apple are great together, but purists could always replace the apple with a couple more sticks of rhubarb.

Rhubarb sharlotka

7 sticks Yorkshire rhubarb

I medium cooking apple

4 medium eggs

200 grams caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125 grams plain flour

I cooked it in a deep, non-stick cake tin with a 20cm removable base.

:: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees

:: Line the base of the tin and butter the sides.

:: Chop the rhubarb and apple into robust chunks and pile them into the tin.

:: Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick. The whisk should leave trails in the egg mixture.

:: Beat in the vanilla extract.

:: Lightly stir in the flour.

:: Tip the batter over the rhubarb and apple and smooth the surface. You need to press down a bit too, to encourage it to penetrate the gaps between the chunks of fruit.

:: Bake for 55 minutes. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar, on its own or with cream or crème fraîche. A mug of Yorkshire tea would be a fine accompaniment.