To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were, when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
Ere you were born, was beauty’s summer dead.
It always seems that every coming month is just at our doorstep, and although March has so far been a glorious period, by no means is she ready to retire to the past and be succeeded by our darling month of April with her infamous spring showers. Instead, I found myself today in North Yorkshire, with all of March’s pleasantries, idly peering into the bookshelf, observing and re-discovering some the literal treasures that my parents have collected over the years. Somehow, it seemed rather fitting to explore the poetic prose of Shakespeare while admiring my mother collecting lazy daffodils as they slowly nodded low with the wistful breeze. The sound of songbirds in the nearby trees and the call of pheasants as the evening drew to a close, brought a long needed peace to my mind and spirit I have long searched for in the past month or so.
It seemed rather fitting to continue the series in this county, notably due to the historical significance: Yorkshire, particularly recalling the infamous rhubarb triangle, has been ‘forcing’ these red gems for many generations. Although short, the Forced Rhubarb Series was weaved together loosely in order to respect and illustrate the seasonal flavours and combinations that highlight and accentuates the delights of this seasonal ‘un-seasonal’ rhubarb. Often I have heard that many people’s experience with this vegetable, particularly of my mother’s and grandmother’s generation, has primarily been in its stewed form, accompanied by custard. Of course there is, in this culinary renaissance, a plethora of recipes using rhubarb, notably in cakes, tarts, jams, ice-cream, cordials, pies and so on. I had never had the opportunity to taste this particular produce until I ventured to England to study at university; I was not disappointed with what I found.
Rhubarb and apple have always been a delightful pairing, particularly in a crumble, as are the rhubarb and strawberry, and the rhubarb and almond combinations. I’ve always found that floral tones and hints of spice bring rhubarb to a completely different level of playfulness and flavour palate. Intensely tangy, acidic and tart; these are the first characteristics that spring to mind when recalling the aromas of rhubarb. However, early rhubarb, notably the forced variety, possess a much more delicate, elegant sharpness and milder acidic flavour, accompanied by a much more succulent texture.
What this series hopes to capture, is not the invention of innovative ways of enjoying rhubarb, but instead, I simply wish to combine harmonious flavours that will elevate and complement this somewhat neglected delicacy whilst toying with some classical dishes. In the case of this post, without hesitation, crumble was always going to be the dish of choice. I recall a time, not so far in the past, where I would prepare and eat this dessert religiously with my room mate and partner-in-crime, in what seems, in hindsight, to have been more often then either of us would care to believe. You always tell me, with sunshine for smiles, that life is always better with pie. And crumble, naturellement! Not in the number of years that I have known you have you changed one bit. This is for you, Davy B.
Lavender, Apple and Forced Rhubarb Crumble
Served: 6 people
Cooking time: 1 hour
Here, I decided to use lavender sugar, a nod of inspiration from my mother, as there are two things that will truly remind me of her; the first being raspberries, and the other, lavender. Flavoured sugars are a wonderful addition to recipes, and my kitchen is never without vanilla sugar and cinnamon sugar. I dried my own lavender from one of my potted plants to make the sugar last year (it seems to have held well in regards to its flavour) and is very simple to do.
The white pepper is a fleeting, spicy note which gives some more character to the crumble, however, it can easily be left out.
4-5 tbsp lavender sugar, or to taste (recipe to follow)
1/4tsp cinnamon + extra
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1/4tsp white pepper (optional)
4 apples, skins removed and cut into 4cm chunks
2-3 large stalks of rhubarb, cut into 4 cm chunks
Juice of 1/2 bergamot (regular lemon can be substituted)
2 cups plain flour
1 cup of butter, room temperature
2tbsp vanilla sugar (recipe to follow)
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven at 200c/400f (180c fan oven). Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a bowl with the flour and rub between your fingers until it is the texture of wet sand. Add a pinch of cinnamon, 2tbsp vanilla sugar and 1 tbsp lavender sugar, salt. Mix well and set aside.
Next, place the apples, rhubarb and lemon juice into a saucepan (tip: whilst cutting the apples, place the freshly cut sections into lemon juice to stop the fruit from browning). Turn on the heat to a medium/high, adding 4 tbsp lavender sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp white pepper to the pan. Allow to come to a boil, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
Pour the fruit and sauces into a 9inch oven proof dish before spreading the crumble evenly over the top. (tip: if you do have any crumble left, you can easily freeze any leftovers for a later date). Place in the oven in the middle shelf and leave for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crumble turns a lovely golden brown.
Serve immediately with ice-cream (or pouring cream, custard, or both!). Eat within 3 days.
Makes: 250g sugar
cooking time: 2 minutes + 1 week
250g caster sugar
5tbsp dried lavender buds
Simply place both components into a sealable jar, ensuring the lavender is well distributed. Leave for approximately a week or longer, to allow the flavours to develop before using. Ideally used within 6 months (mine has lasted well over a year).
Makes: 250g sugar
cooking time: 2 minutes + 2 weeks
250g caster sugar
1-2 vanilla pods, left whole or cut in half
Simply place both components into a sealable jar and leave for approximately two weeks or longer, to allow the flavours to develop before using. Use within 6 months (tip: the vanilla pod, if left whole, can be reused).
Home-Made Vanilla Ice-Cream
I remember when my father first made this ice cream for us. The ‘secret’ ingredient, was the full can of condensed milk. My siblings and I were desperate to ‘help out’ and completely over the moon at the prospect of taste testing the ice cream, that we forgot to mix the base properly. The result: the condense milk had solidified into little balls of goodness that we all loved. Sweet memories!
cooking time: 10 minutes + overnight freeze
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk (recipe to follow)
1tbsp vanilla paste
Whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold the vanilla paste into the cream. When ready, add the condense milk to the bowl with the cream and vanilla. Mix well before placing into a freezable container and leaving in the freezer overnight.
Sweetened Condensed Milk
adapted from: Just As Delish
Makes: approximately 2 cups
Cooking time: 2+ hours
You can easily find condensed milk in supermarkets, but it is so easy to make, if you have some time to spare.
1 1/2 cups of caster sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 litre of full fat milk
1/2tsp vanilla extract (optional)
Place the milk and sugar into a saucepan and allow to come to a simmer on a medium/low heat. Turn down the heat slightly and stir occasionally for approximately 2 hours until thick, ensuring it never comes to a boil. When the condensed milk has reduced and become thick, add the butter and vanilla (if using) and stir. If it is still liquidy by this point, continue cooking until the right consistency is achieved. However, if it is too thick, add 1 tbsp of boiled water at a time, until desired thickness is met. Can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 month.
Thank you for reading.