Rhubarb and Strawberry Sunday

 

I love the Home Counties.  For me, they hold great charm.  Village fêtes, farm shops, afternoons sipping cider at the pub, bake sales, plant sales, hedgehog sanctuaries, Sunday lunch, cricket teas, thirsty vicars, vintage cars, and the scent of wood burning fires wherever you go.

Walking past Shardeloes en route to The Red Lion makes me feel like I am deep in the country. The truth, though, is that I am only an hour outside of London.  It’s brilliant and gives me a proper excuse to wear my wellies without looking like a knob.

This weekend in the Garden of Eatin’ (that’s what I call my in-laws’ backyard as it is so full of edible goodness), my daughter explained the difference between bluebells and forget-me-nots to her stuffed friend, Little Bear.  There was also an overabundance of rhubarb. When my mother-in-law asked me to help by cutting it for her, I was happy to be of service.

8 jars of jam and a crumble to be eaten later tonight was our yield.  And to think, there’s still plenty left.

Below is my recipe for today’s rhubarb and strawberry jam.  The strawberries I used were not our own, but they were British (Honi soit qui mal y pense) and came from 2 of the home counties–Kent and Berkshire.

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Ingredients:

3 lbs rhubarb, cut into 1″ pieces

1 lb strawberries, halved

juice of 2 lemons

1 cup apple juice

1.2 kg sugar

1 tbsp butter

 

Method: 

First, place a small plate in the freezer.  This is so you can test your jam later to see if it’s set.

Wash then sterilize your jars by placing them on a tray in a warm oven.

Place the rhubarb, lemon juice, and apple juice in a maslin pan.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.  The reason for this is twofold. 1) Rhubarb takes longer to cook than strawberries.  2) Both rhubarb and strawberries have such low pectin that the addition of apple juice, which naturally has high pectin, will help your jam set.

Turn off the heat and stir in the berries and the sugar.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Turn the heat back on and bring everything to a boil.

Test for a set by placing a bit of the molten mixture on your frozen plate.  Place the plate back in the freezer.  Remove it after a few minutes.  If the jam crinkles when you push it with your finger, then it has set.  If not, continue cooking for a few more minutes and test again.  Be sure to turn off the heat each time you test for a set.  You do not want to overcook your jam.

Once a desired set has been achieved, stir in the butter.  This will prevent your jam from being scummy.

Let the jam cool for at least 5 minutes before potting it in warm jars.

 

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I don’t eat rhubarb though I’m sure one day I will.  Kind of like “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.”  Or as Holly Golightly said about diamonds,”It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds.  I can’t wait.”  My sentiments exactly.   With diamond tiaras and crowns of rhubarb in my stars, I look forward to being a woman of a certain age.

My Great-Grandma Sorensen grew rhubarb outside the back door just off the kitchen of her home in Harlan, Iowa.  She loved it, especially with strawberry.  Each summer, she would stock her pantry with strawberry rhubarb jam and cover her windowsill with strawberry rhubarb pies.  My Great-Grandpa had no objections.  For her, strawberry rhubarb was the most winning combination.  For him, he was the biggest winner.  This year, in memory of her, I’m going to pick up where she left off.

Though the distance between what used to be Great-Grandma Inez’s house in Harlan and my in-laws’ in Buckinghamshire is 4,219 miles, there is one thing about these places that’s exactly the same.  The summer rhubarb.  At the far end of my in-laws’ English garden, past the flowerbeds and my daughter, the Weekend Primrose Fairy, who conjures magic with camellias for wounded ladybugs. . . beyond the bramley apple tree laden with blossom that will (fingers crossed) bring us a bumper crop this September. . . after the greenhouse sheltering sweet peas and cherry tomatoes . . . next to the squash, sorrel, and kale. . . is a row of regal scarlet rhubarb.  This weekend I made several crumbles.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.  Actually, I hope my Great-Grandma would have enjoyed it.

Sorensens

primroses

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garden bramley apple tree

best blossom rhubarb in the garden rhubarb growing

Ingredients:

fruit filling:

2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons brown sugar

crumble topping:

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

a pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 5/375ºF/190ºC.

Place the rhubarb and strawberry pieces in a small ceramic baking dish.  Add the brown sugar and crystallized ginger.  Gently stir to mix.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and salt.  Rub with your fingertips until it forms a coarse meal.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake for an hour or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or whatever you like.  And to eat it like my Great-Grandma did, be sure to have it with a game of Scrabble.

windowsill crumble

Happy Almost Independence Day!

4th of July

It’s no surprise that the English don’t care about the 4th of July.  But I do!  My husband and I always start our feast with a re-enactment.  He pretends to be a Redcoat and I throw Yorkshire Tea into the Thames.  It hardly makes up for the lack of fireworks, but still, it makes me feel very American and proud.

My favorite stomachache each 4th of July has got to be from too many cherries and icy glass bottles of Coke after too many spicy chicken wings and too much pie.  Below is my menu for tomorrow’s feast–fresh fruit and iced colas excluded.  What’s yours?

The Barefoot Contessa’s buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese and crudité

Red Rooster Hot Sauce

The Barefoot Contessa’s fresh corn salad with basil

My mint juleps as originally featured on Henry’s World of Booze

Lemon icebox pie

Cherry Hand Pies

Cherry pies

Foul Weather Curry

England is famously damp.  It’s also cold, gray, and foggy.  Some people try to romanticize this fact.  Like George and Ira Gershwin who wrote a charming tune about it for Fred Astaire to sing.  Well bully for them and all their art deco, sunny, California splendor.  I have always loved “A Foggy Day.”  Still, its sweet melody does not change the nature of England’s foul weather–not even the Ella and Louis version which is my  favorite.

Only those built to last, as my father-in-law says, can sustain the tempests here.  Everyone else who is smallish, like me, gets whisked away by gusts of wind which leaves one feeling rather like Piglet in Winnie the Pooh.  Which is to say not very dignified at all.

I’m glad that I look good in tweed coats.  It’d be a pity if I didn’t as they seem to be part of my daily English uniform.  Ditto herringbone scarves.  Ditto cashmere knee socks.  Ditto my mother’s vintage Superga Wellies.  Still, I yearn for a little warmth come spring.  Especially when the rest of the world entire seems to be bursting with blossoms and basking in the sun.

This is when I pull out my curry recipe for a little heat.  What the English sun fails to provide outdoors, my culinary skills can make up for inside.  Ginger, chilies, and Indian spices can do wonders for increasing body temperature (and metabolic rate I might add).  Until the sun comes out for both me and the Casa Blanca lilies I recently planted , I’ll be making lots of this.  If you live in the U.K., maybe you will too.  Keeping warm never tasted so good and colonial.

Ingredients:

380 grams/0.837 pounds mini chicken breast fillets

2 tablespoons garam masala

1 tablespoon tumeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 small onions, sliced into thin rounds

2 sweet red peppers, sliced into thin rounds

4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 minced chili pepper

1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube

1 can coconut milk

vegetable oil

Method:  

Mix all the dry spices together in a large bowl.  Next, add the chicken pieces.  Roll them around in the spice mixture until uniformly coated.  Really rub the flavor into each piece.  Cover the bowl of dry rubbed chicken pieces and refrigerate for as long as you can.  Ideally, overnight.  If you’re pressed for time, three hours will do.

Heat a large skillet with about 2 tablespoons of oil in it.  Caramelize the onions and peppers over medium/low heat.  In the last 30 seconds before you take them off the heat, add the garlic and ginger.  Stir to prevent sticking.  Transfer the contents of your skillet to a large sauce pot.

Now, brown your chicken pieces in the skillet.  When they’re done, transfer them to the sauce pot with everything else.  Crumble the bouillon cube into the mix.  Mix everything with a wooden spoon and break your chicken pieces into smaller bits.  They should look roughly shredded.  Finally, add the chili pepper and coconut milk.  Set everything to simmer for about 30 minutes.  Stir often.

Serve with basmati rice.

I don’t intend to make pairing suggestions but I have to say that last night, my husband and I had this with a 2002 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese and it was a perfect combination.  The wine smelled sweet like honey, but the sugar was not overpowering.  It was really well balanced and complimented the spiciness of the curry.  Also it had the freshness of peaches and crispness of apples.  I highly recommend it.