Compote, Cake, and Custard

A trip to the farmer’s market this morning yielded strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb all sure signs of spring and the coming summer! I’ve been an anti-rhubarb girl for as long as I can remember, but I decided this year to give it a try. Spring is a wonderful time to try something new as fresh fruits and veggies are once again making their seasonal appearances so they are at their peak flavor.

And so, after a long work week, I decided to spend my Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. Inspired by the fresh produce, as well as several blogs I follow, I got busy.

First up was a gluten-free lemon sponge cake recipe courtesy of Cannelle et Vanille. The ingredient list was simple and I thought it would be perfect with some lightly sweetened, sliced strawberries. The end result wasn’t as lemony as I’d expected, but it is still delicious.

Next, I tackled my rhubarb, making a simple compote that I figured I could spoon over the sponge cake, eat with yogurt or vanilla pudding. I used the basic recipe from Simple Bites. While I’m not yet in love with rhubarb, I did enjoy this easy dish and I hope to try out a few other rhubarb recipes.

Finally, I decided since I didn’t have any whipping cream on hand, that a nice vanilla pudding would the perfect conclusion to my afternoon kitchen dabbling. I followed the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, though sadly I didn’t have any vanilla beans, so vanilla extract it was for me. How can you go wrong with pudding? It will be delicious with any of my other creations.

I hope you too are being inspired by fresh, spring produce.

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Off The Shelf: Well Preserved

Well Preserved: A Jam-Making Hymnal by Joan Hassol is a tribute to the joys of preserving the seasons in your kitchen. Part memoir, mostly recipes, this book was enjoyable to read through and imagine what kind of jam I might like to make next.

Hassol’s drive to make jam so matches my feelings that I felt I was reading my thoughts put on paper. Here are a few excerpts from the introduction: “There is something about finding the succulent, almost ripe fruits; about picking berries; about laboring in the hot sun, that awakens long-dormant memories of a sun-washed early childhood….I’m still a hunter-gatherer, with an instinctive sense of needing to ‘have enough’…Stacking jars fills me with a sense of security….This book is about my relationship with jam, my soul, music, and the world in which I live.”

Arranged seasonally, you will find recipes such as: Apple Grape Jam, Cranberry Raspberry Jam, Green Tomato Chutney, Cranberry Citrus Chutney, Lemon Ginger Marmalade, Orange Marmalade with Whiskey, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Rhubarb with Ginger Jam, Apricot with Rum Jam, Pineapple Ginger Jam, Blueberry Jam, Raspberry Amaretto Jam, Cherry Pineapple Jam, and Wild Cherry Jam. The book ends with a collection of muffins, breads and scones to enjoy with your jam.

I decided first upon the Strawberry Rhubarb Jam since I love that kind of pie. The directions were easy to follow and my jam came out exactly as it should. The original recipe did not include a processing time so I just checked with the National Center for Home Food Preservation and found I should process my jam for 10 minutes. I could have wished for more fruit flavor, and less sweet, but with the amount of sugar in these recipes, one won’t be getting something less sweet.

I would really like to try the Rhubarb Ginger Jam next!

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB JAM
(Well  Preserved)
Print this recipe

3 cups chopped, fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup water
1  1/2 packages powdered pectin
7 cups sugar

Simmer the strawberries, rhubarb and water until the rhubarb is soft, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil. Add the pectin. Return to the boil. Add the sugar slowly, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil again and boil for 1 minute, or until the jam sheets off the spoon. Pour into hot, sterilized jars. Cover with new, clean, hot lids. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 7-8 eight-ounce jars.

Market Fresh: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of the first vegetables gardeners can harvest in the spring. It is a perennial plant, so it comes up on its own each spring, sporting beautiful red stalks (or sometimes pink or green) which can be turned into a number of delightful treats.

Somehow it was always elderly people in my life who had large rhubarb patches from which they were happy to share. I guess that makes me think of rhubarb as an old-fashioned food, but one I love. As a child, my mom would give us kids a bowl of sugar and a few stalks of rhubarb. We’d dip the end of our stalk in the sugar and then take a bite.

I think my all-time favorite use for rhubarb is strawberry-rhubarb pie. While in the UK I was introduced to exclusively rhubarb pie, which I enjoyed and made several times. Rhubarb is delicious in a crumble (see recipe below), either on its own, or combined with strawberries. And it is well-suited for jams and chutneys. Stewed or roasted rhubarb with whipped cream is a simple but sublime dessert. I even came across a recipe for using rhubarb in a green salad!

If you don’t have any rhubarb in your garden, and don’t know any elderly friends with large patches, its worth buying a bunch at the grocery store and enjoying at least one rhubarb dessert during the season. And here is a terrific recipe to try:

STRAWBERRY AND RHUBARB CRUMBLE
(Bon Appetit May 2010)
Print this recipe

3/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
large pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup husked hazelnuts, toasted coarsely chopped (almonds or pecans would also work)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I omitted this)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
12 ounces rhubarb (preferrable bright red), ends trimmed, stalks cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces

vanilla ice cream to serve

Combine flour, 2/3 cup sugar, and salt in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Add butter. Rub in with fingertips until mixture sticks together in clumps. Mix in oats and nuts. (Topping can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Place 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; whisk to blend well. Add strawberries and rhubarb to sugar in bowl; toss to coat well. Scrape fruit filling into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle oat topping evenly over filling.

Bake crumble until filling bubbles thickly and topping is crisp, about 45 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Spoon warm crumble into bowls. Serve with ice cream.

Serves 8.