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Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

My rhubarb plant is sprouting crazily as usual. It seems to be an early version as other members of my family are still waiting for their rhubarb to get big enough to pick. Nigella is right when she says that the early ‘forced’ rhubarb makes for a prettier cake, studded with pink chunks. One day I will get round to buying a rhubarb forcer and giving it a go myself. In the meantime I like the ordinary stuff, even it isn’t as pink and sweet!

Nigella’s recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I am too lazy I’m afraid to write it out. Here is a photo of the page:

A less lazy blogger than me has written the recipe out here

The cornmeal gives a pleasing texture to this cake, contrasting with the soft and juicy rhubarb chunks. I added a little ginger as well as the cinnamon, and I think I would emphasise this flavour a bit more next time. In fact, while searching for the cake online I found a very nice sounding version at this website. Added almonds and spices such as cardamom, plus little chunks of crystallised ginger sound delicious! Another flavour that goes well with rhubarb is orange – which is also very much in season as the moment. I think I’m going to have try another iteration next weekend!

Even as it stands, plain and simple, this cake is very good. As Nigella points out it is a versatile cake, good for pudding, teatime and all other occasions in between and beyond. Plain and unadorned, or accompanied by cream (muscat-mascarpone cream if you are Nigella) or custard, rhubarb cake is moist and delicious served any way.

My cake took quite a bit longer to cook than recipe stated – I would advise testing regularly so that you don’t take it out of the oven too early.

Do you have a favourite rhubarb recipe? I’d love to know! Or perhaps you can’t stand it?! Give it a chance and try this cake 😊.

Rhubarb, ginger and white chocolate cookies

My sister told me about this wonderful recipe from Anna Jones in the Guardian. Our rhubarb is doing amazingly, and although I have never ‘forced’ it to make it pink and tender, I think it is still fab! Last week I made a crumble with it, this week it is cookies.

Just out of the oven!

The store cupboard offered all the other ingredients which was lucky really, as who wants to go out shopping when they don’t have to in these strange times. The white chocolate was lurking from way back Christmas time when I was going to make some kind of white chocolate fudge, and then never got time to do it. And the ginger was from a recent spate of ginger cakes! I managed to get some flour and oats a couple of weeks ago. Hurray!

Roasted rhubarb
It was quite messy making these cookies!

The mixture was very hard to handle as it became very wet when the rhubarb was added to it. I had to wash my hands several times – in addition to the many times my hands were being washed anyway for hygiene purposes. For that reason I made the cookies quite big. (Part of the reason – I also think that this type of moist chewy cookie is nicer when bigger!) Second time around I used spoons – a bit easier.

The result? I can only say they were DELICIOUS! If you like rhubarb you will love these. And actually even if you are a bit meh about rhubarb I think you will love these!

So delicious I have made a second batch today!

Running news this week in relative lockdown: I am still going into work. So twice this week I went out very early – 5.30 ish – to run about 6km in peace and quiet before work. After work it has been too busy in the parks for me to feel comfortable. I’ve done a couple of home workouts in the garden, which is fun. Yesterday my lovely outdoor gym club Quit the Gym got together on Zoom for 30 minutes of fun fitness! I think the explosion in home exercise programmes on Instagram, YouTube etc is perhaps one of the more positive things to come out of this awful pandemic situation. I’m always an optimist. The UK seems to have taken to Joe Wicks as the nation’s #PEteacher! Maybe people will realise that getting moving makes them feel good, and carry on after all this is over…as I say – ever an optimist!

This morning I woke early again and went out for an early run. There was almost nobody about. It was 7am (6 before the clocks changed..) and quite a cold wind. Maybe that was a factor. Whatever – it was easy to stay away from people! I did a nice easy 10km, stopping every now and again to appreciate the signs of spring that are everywhere (and have a rest).

New gym equipment is being installed in Perivale Park – sadly it can’t be used for a while yet 😦
One of the new (ish) ponds at Perivale Park.
Early morning in the Bunny Park – hardly anyone about
I think this is linden tree blossom

While running I listened to a podcast that I’ve meaning to listen to since Wednesday. It was about the physiological effects of kindness on your brain and immune system. If you are interested in how your mind can influence your body I highly recommend this podcast. Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks to Dr David Hamilton about the science of kindness. More and more scientists and doctors are beginning to realise that medicine is so much more than pills and surgery, it’s about emotions and how you feel.

I love this mug. It was a very thoughtful present from a friend. Post run cuppa.

Right now I am thinking about all my readers, wherever you are in the world. Please stay safe, look after yourselves and your friends and family. Even if you cannot go out of your home at the moment try to open the window and look at the sky, listen to the birds and perhaps see a tree or two. I am grateful to be able to go out for a run or walk, to see my family – in person or on the phone, to chat to my friends. Thankfully I can still bake too!

Rhubarb-Strawberry Bars

I have had this bowl – from Laura Ashley – for SO many years! #vintage!

The strawberry season is in full swing here in the UK. I love strawberries raw just as they are, or maybe sliced onto my overnight oats, or maybe made into jam. They also work very well with rhubarb – and I have a large rhubarb plant in the garden. The combination of rhubarb and strawberries is a bit of a classic – the sharpness of the rhubarb setting off the sweetness of the strawberries.

Home grown rhubarb

Rhubarb is a vegetable technically, and there are many varieties, with different coloured stalks from pale pinky reds to green. The colour of the stalk is not an indicator of edibility. It can be ‘forced’ in winter/early spring to produce delicately flavoured, light coloured stalks. I have never been bothered to do that. After about June/July you’re not supposed to pick too much as the plant is gearing up to store energy in the rhizomes to see it through the winter. But it’s ok to pick a couple of stalks here and there (which is exactly what I did!).

Terracotta forcing pots – shutting out light means the stalks are tender and delicate
Image from Wikipedia

Rhubarb leaves contain quite large quantities of oxalic acid which is poisonous – so avoid eating the leaves! The stalks are safe to eat raw or cooked. I have never eaten rhubarb raw, although I have read about people doing this – sometimes dipping the stalk in sugar if it’s very sour. Early rhubarb (especially the forced stuff) is less sour than later in the season.

In west Yorkshire there are nine square miles of the famous Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle. At the height of rhubarb’s popularity the area was 30 square miles, but fashions change, and now there is so much variety of fruit available all year that rhubarb is not eaten as widely as it used to be. The Triangle is especially good for growing rhubarb because of the climate – cold! There is a lovely little article in the Guardian from 3 years ago all about the Triangle with photos from the wonderful Martin Parr.

I found several recipes for this type of bar with a crumble style topping and jammy type filling. I used this one from Italianfoodforever.com and slightly adapted it, as well as converting the measurement units to metric. Some of the recipes I looked at did not cook the strawberries and rhubarb first. I might try one of those next time, but knowing how wet cooked rhubarb and strawberries can be I thought it safer to cook them first. The bars are a sort of flapjack with a jammy centre. The original recipe only had the walnuts in the topping, but I like the taste and texture of them in the base too, so mixed everything together for the base and the topping.

Rhubarb- Strawberry Bars
Resting on a truly antique plate inherited from my grandmother #vintageplus!

Ingredients

Rhubarb-strawberry jammy filling:

250g rhubarb chopped quite small

250g strawberries cut into pieces

1 tbsp cornflour slaked in a little water

60ml water

115g sugar

Oaty base and topping:

250g flour

75g rolled oats

80g brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

130g butter – cut into pieces

5 tbsp iced water

50g chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method

Make the jammy filling – put everything in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir frequently and simmer until a jammy consistency is achieved – 15-20 minutes. Leave to cool to room temperature – it will thicken up a bit more. You can do this the day before and keep it in the fridge.

Line a 20 cm square tin with baking parchment. Heat the oven to Gas mark 4 (350 deg C).

Put the flour, oats, salt, sugar, cinnamon in a bowl. Rub in the butter evenly. Mix in the walnuts. Mix to a sticky-ish ball with the iced water. It should still be a bit dry.

Take two thirds of the dough and press evenly into the tin. Spread the jam over the base. (You could actually use any jam in this recipe.) Now you need to crumble the rest of the mixture over the top. I sort of pinched bits off and put them evenly over the top of the jam. The jam should still be visible!

I sprinkled extra jumbo oats over the top before baking

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

Eat and enjoy! It’s not too sweet – you could actually reduce the sugar even more I think. It depends on your taste. And I think you could increase the proportion of oats to flour to make it slightly more healthy..?! Different flavour combo’s would work too – gooseberry jam with ginger in the flapjack base maybe? Or plum jam with a little star anise? Endless possibilities! Have fun!