The way I bang on about forced rhubarb you’d think I couldn’t be bothered with its grown up sister, field rhubarb. And to be honest for years I couldn’t. I was brought up with sour, school rhubarb, tough and green, served up in a stodgy glub drowned in lumpy custard.
But tastes change and as I’ve got older I’ve learned to appreciate the very sourness I used to loathe. Sure, I still love the bubblegum-pink tender stems of the baby stems in February/March, but I’ve learned to balance the flavours until they’re not just something to use up, they’re bona fide events in themselves.
This year has been so bloomin’ wet I can’t stop it growing – it’s hard to remember a couple of years ago when I was thinking of grubbing the whole lot out and planting something else. A combination of creating proper beds, adding vast amounts of manure and the heavens opening practically every day has taken this rhubarb to gunnera proportions.
Most of it is so woody I’m just leaving it – no one wants to eat rhubarb that’s as thick as your wrist. But the newer stems inside are lovely and well worth turning into something pretty special, so here’s a recipe I invented yesterday. And okay, yes, alright, so I am going through a bit of an ice cream phase…shoot me.
Field Rhubarb and Stem Ginger Ice Cream.
This recipe uses a bain-marie or double-boiler technique. I use an old porringer I got from a charity shop, which is a saucepan inside a saucepan which is filled with simmering water, but a bowl inside a saucepan of boiling water will work. Don’t use a plastic bowl, it will take forever. And definitely don’t be tempted to put the custard mix on direct heat or you’ll end up with lumpy, ‘school custard’ or worse, a curdled mess.
Five stems of Field Rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 2cm lengths.
60g syrup from a jar of stem ginger
2 pieces of stem ginger, chopped.
4 egg yolks
I vanilla pod
200g granulated sugar
Put the rhubarb and stem ginger syrup into a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is a pulp. Remove from the heat and mash until completely pureed. Leave to cool, then chill.
Meanwhile, make the custard:
Heat the milk and 100g of the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan, with the vanilla pod, split in half. Just before it boils, take it from the heat, take out the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the mix. Return the pod and allow to infuse in the milk for about 20 minutes.
Beat the yolks and the rest of the sugar until pale.
Return the milk pan to the heat and bring almost to the boil. Remove the vanilla pod, add the milk to the egg mix and beat briefly to mix.
Pour the custard mix into the double-boiler or bowl sitting in simmering water and heat, stirring constantly until it will coat the back of the spoon.
Put the marscapone in a bowl and pour the hot custard onto it. Beat until smooth.
Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and chill.
When absolutely cold, mix with the rhubarb and churn it in an ice cream maker* before either serving or freezing for later. Just before it’s solid, add the chopped crystallised ginger. Made correctly, this recipe should scoop directly from the freezer.
*If you don’t have an ice cream maker you can freeze the mix for an hour, remove, beat, then refreeze, repeating if necessary.