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Archive for May, 2016

Rhubarb Cordial

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Rhubarb is such a versatile ingredient, it can be eaten as a sweet or with meat or fish. It has a tart acidic taste. Adding sugar changes its taste completely.

Growing up, I think ours was the only garden not to have rhubarb growing in it. Our elderly neighbour more than made up for it, giving up a good fifth of her garden to one huge rhubarb bed.

I can remember being invited round for supper one evening and there on the back of her cooker was a pan of simmering rhubarb pieces (I think from the colour they had been there a couple of days). I had never eaten rhubarb before so didn’t know what to expect. When they did eventually make it into my pudding bowl they had taken on a unappetising grey/green colour. The taste was like nothing I had ever eaten before, sharp with no texture; in fact they dissolved instantly in my mouth leaving an unpleasant after taste. My mind was made up I was steering clear of rhubarb. In future I avoided the stuff like the plague.

Not until I grew up and started to grow my own vegetables did I relax my hatred of the plant. Rhubarb was easy to grow and didn’t need any real expertise. It also doubled up as a good ground cover so stopped weeds growing. I let it flourish in my garden for several years without actually using it. To me, it just looked good.

When we moved house a neighbour offered me a small rhubarb crown, telling me it was from an old house that was being demolished and that it was a very special type of rhubarb. She said it was a pink champagne variety – I have looked this up and haven’t found it. I have since grown other champagne varieties but nothing compares to this mystery one. I planted it and forgot about it. Then the following year the most amazing deep scarlety pink stems started to shoot up. I was intrigued.

We cut a few stems and gently poached them. They cooked too quickly and fell apart, but the taste was a revelation. I tried again a second time, slowly bringing the water to the boil and then turning the heat off. I drained the rhubarb and with the small amount of remaining water added sugar and bought it back to the boil creating sweet syrup. The flavour and taste is delicate but distinctive. We now love rhubarb. In fact if we had to choose one plant only to grow in the kitchen garden it would be rhubarb.

Rhubarb cordial is a wonderful way to use up any excess stems. If you are careful you can keep it until the following year. The recipe below will make around 860-900ml. That is enough for one bottle, which I put away, and a small amount to drink now.

The cordial can be made with any variety of rhubarb but for the very best taste I would try to use the sweetest rhubarb you can. Champagne or Victoria are good ones, the pinker the stems the stronger the final colour.

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Rhubarb Cordial

Ingredients

1 kg of rhubarb

100g water

450g sugar.

Juice of half a lemon

A sterilised bottle with screw top or swing cap. (see below for sterilising method)

Method

Cut the rhubarb into small pieces.

Place in a pan with the water. Don’t worry that the water barely covers them.

Start with a low heat and slowly bring them up to the boil.

Place a lid on the pan and leave to gently simmer for 40 mins. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Strain the contents of the pan through a sieve lined with muslin, or a jelly bag. Leave overnight. If in a hurry, 5 hours should be enough. Do not squeeze the pulp as this will cloud the cordial.

Put the strained liquid into a clean pan and add the sugar. Again gently heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

Allow to cool slightly before adding the lemon juice.

Pour into sterilised bottle/s.

I use a funnel to pour the cordial into the bottles lined with a layer of muslin just to remove any scum etc.

Label and store in a cool, dark dry place. It should keep for a year but once opened must be kept in the fridge.

If you don’t like the idea of keeping it in a bottle you can freeze it. Pouring it into an ice cube tray and then once frozen decanting into a sealed bag. This way you can just use what you want when you want.

To sterilise your bottle/s.

Wash in soapy water and use a bottlebrush to clean the inside. Rinse well and drain as much as the water as you can. Turn your oven to Gas mark 2/150F/300C and place the bottle/s inside. Laying them on their sides is fine. Leave for about 15 mins and remove. The bottle/s are now sterilised and ready for use.

N.B: There are countless recipes for rhubarb cordial. The sugar you add is up to you, but the amount I have used I feel is about right. I suggest you taste some of the cordial before bottling and if it is not sweet enough there is nothing to say that you cannot add another 100g or more, until it is right for you. If you do add more sugar remember to return it to the heat so that it is fully dissolved before bottling.

If you forget to watch the cordial after adding the sugar and it starts to boil don’t worry this will make a slightly thicker liquid or a very thin jam (which is lovely as a sauce over ice cream).

 

 

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