When the first rhubarb comes in, it marks the start of the cropping year for us. There is something fantastically symbolic about it, because it is the first spring crop to come through on our plot. Technically there are other crops coming in all year round, but at this time of year they are mainly leftovers from the previous season.
For example, we picked the last of our sprouts and ate them on Easter Sunday. Spring onions are now cropping prolifically. Last year we were astounded by a perfect cauliflower that sprouted in March after a long, unpromising dormancy over Winter.
Rhubarb on the other hand marks the start of the growing season. It is the new season’s growth that you crop and eat. Something that was lying dormant in the soil sprouts in a very short time, and provides you with an all-new crop.
Forcing it gives you an even earlier crop, and a tastier, rarer one. By excluding light from the sprouting plant, you force it to reach upwards and produce pale, tender stems. You can only force each plant once every few years, then you need to leave it for a couple of years to regain its strength before cropping it at all again.
It has become a tradition in this house to herald the first forced rhubarb of the year with a bit of a fanfare. This year it feels very late, although we aren’t sure if this is to do with this year’s cultivar or the cold spring. Obviously the classic partner for rhubarb is custard, and I have to say that rhubarb crumble and custard is a firm favourite for the rest of the year.
However, the perfect, pale pink stems of the first forced crop demanded something more glamorous, so Jamie made ‘Rhubarb Creme Brulee’. Which, at the end of the day, is actually just a posher version of rhubarb and custard!
A real spring treat for Easter Sunday.
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Posted in Fruit, Harvest, Herbs, Rhubarb, Warren, tagged Brassicas, butternut squash, gooseberries, open farm day, Rhubarb, roasted vegetables on June 7, 2009|
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It was Open Farm Day 2009 today, and we popped over to Shabden Park Farm in Chipstead where they had a variety of animals on display for the children to see. Eden has started getting a bit distressed about the idea that animals have to be killed for meat, and I don’t think the sight of the incredibly cute baby animals, most of them a few days old, did much to dispel her reservations. There were baby goslings, little lambs and tiny baby pigs, which put the sausage we had eaten into perspective. The day really reinforced for me the value of buying properly reared meat, that has been treated well. The small farm shop sells only their own meat and that of other selected local farmers.
After a lovely sunny day, we went back to the Warren to see what was going on. The brassicas have grown amazingly in only a week.
The gooseberries have come through and are looking extremely good, even though the leaves are getting eaten by something.
Dinner tonight was roast duck with vegetables roasted with thyme and bay leaf.
The final crop of rhubarb came from the plot this afternoon which we roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes with sugar and vanilla.
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Jamie checked the rhubarb that he had been forcing, and decided to pick it. “Forcing” is achieved by putting a cover over the plant, which keeps light out. This convinces the plant that it is still underground, so it doesn’t make chlorophyll – which results in the characteristic blanched pink colour and delicate texture. But only once a year. Forcing puts a strain on the plant, so each one can only be cropped once a year. Knowing this just makes the whole experience even more exciting.
Fresh pink stalks from the allotment
Jamie makes a lot of recipes, but the best one has to be rhubarb creme brulee, below:
The best creme brulee in the world
There is nothing quite like the taste of forced rhubarb in early spring, and it goes really well with the creamy, custardy taste of creme brulee.
I will try to get him to put the recipe in later on.
And look what we found on the new allotment! So there should be many more where that came from.
Imagine how thrilled Jamie was to uncover this?
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