April 06, 2014

The happiest of marmalade marriages

Nothing reminds me more of summer more than a beautiful sun ripened tomato. So when I clocked these beauties on a grey drizzly morning at the farmers market I absolutely couldn't resist. Displayed in a simple bowl on my kitchen table, they looked beautiful, but it wasn't long before I decided what to do with them.

 

I was going to make tomato marmalade.

Tomatoes... marmalade? Yep that's right, its not a typo. I recognise this is probably not music to the ears of any marmalade purists out there, but let me tell you it really works. Tomatoes are both sweet and sour, which make them a fantastic choice for a marmalade, and when paired with citrus it lifts the flavour to a whole other level. Try to imagine a beautiful tomato salad without a lemon & oil vinagrette and you'll understand that tomatoes and citrus happen to love each other. And when you combine those flavours with the sweet, earthy undertones of saffron, it's a perfect triad for the happiest of marmalade marriages.


The key to making this marmalade really sing is in the quality of the tomatoes. I try not to get too annoyed when I hear people talk about using up gluts of fruit or damaged fruit for preserve making. It has long been my belief that like any fine wine you have to start with fruit at the peak of its ripeness to expect a good vintage. It's the same principle with preserve making; you're aim is to capture the flavour of the season in a jar. You won't get that flavour from bruised or damaged fruit that's past its best. Give it to the compost heap instead.

Draw breath. Rant over. 

So, what you are looking for are deeply coloured and firm tomatoes, with a little give. Give them a sniff. If their missing that sweet, woody smell, leave them behind. Check also for wrinkles; a sign of age. In my marmalade I used a mix of speciality tomatoes in a variety of colours, but you could choose a red flavourful tomato like cocktail or plum instead. I encourage you not to skip the overnight maceration step; it really is important because it it draws out all the lovely flavours of the tomatoes and citrus.

There are all sorts of ways you can enjoy tomato marmalade. It makes a perfect partner for crackers, rye bread, or sour dough, especially when paired with a soft goat or ewes cheese. Bring on the summer!

Tomato Marmalade
Fills 5-6 x 225g (8oz) jars

1.25kg mixed vine tomatoes
625g unrefined cane sugar
250g Valencia or Navel oranges
250g unwaxed lemons
2fl oz fresh lemon juice
large pinch of saffron

First, prepare the oranges and lemons : cut in half crosswise, each half cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced crosswise medium-thin. Place the slices in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 1 minute, and then drain, discarding the liquid. Return the slices to the saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender.

While the citrus is cooking, prepare the tomatoes. Remove the vines and stalks from the tomatoes and cut into medium pieces. Put them into a large non reactive bowl with the sugar, lemon juice, and saffron. When the citrus are cooked, drain, and add to the tomato mixture. Stir well to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoon in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later.

Remove the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and transfer it to an preserving pan or large heavy-bottomed saucepan. 

Gently heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook at a lively boil until thickened (about 15-20 minutes), skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat, stirring frequently, to prevent the marmalade from sticking. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring continually, until no longer watery. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened. 

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the marmalade, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the marmalade runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

Pot in warm, dry sterilized jars, and seal. Store in a cool place and refrigerate once opened.


 





March 29, 2014

'No Gin' & Tonic

Don't misunderstand me here. There are definitely those gin o'clock days when a non-alcoholic aperitif really won't do. But there are also times when we should abstain. When I was in the shower the other morning (where I often have my best thoughts) I started thinking about the flavour of gin and whether it could be imitated in some way. For me its often the taste I'm after. So how do I trick my taste buds into believing I'm having the real thing...
 
enter Angelica.


Angelica is one of the ingredients to give gin its flavour.  Most of us probably remember the bright green candied stems commonly used to decorate cakes and puddings, but the seeds and root have been used to flavour spirits like Chartreuse and vermouths for centuries. Sadly, I've never been able to buy Angelica fresh anywhere so unless you know someone who grows it,  I would say its a worthy addition to any herb garden. And quite a beautiful one.


It is not difficult to grow. It prefers a little shade and if well placed, can grow into an enormous plant, reaching eight feet tall, with huge leaves and round umbels of fragrant yellowish-green flowers. Happily, it is also a vital food source for early bees and hoverflies and birds like to eat its seeds in Autumn. I grow mine in an old tin bath to restrict its size and it seems perfectly happy, requiring no special treatment. If you are thinking about growing it, be sure to get this particular species. There are other ornamental angelicas sold in garden centres, but they can be mildly toxic, which is not what you're after.


Once you've got your hands on some angelica, the rest is easy peasy. First, you make a simple syrup by combining equal parts of sugar and water (I used 2 cups) in a small saucepan. Warm over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour into a glass jar and add 1oz of freshly gathered Angelica stem, chopped into short lengths, and the zest of 1 lemon. Seal and leave in the fridge for a couple of days, giving it a shake every now and then. The flavour will intensify the longer you leave it. I tasted mine after two days and the flavour was good. When you are happy with the strength of flavour, strain through fine muslin and pour the syrup into a glass bottle or jar with a lid. It's that simple. Feel free to switch the sugar for honey or raw sugars, but be aware that these will flavour your syrup and turn it a golden brown colour.
 

 'No Gin' & Tonic 
  
1 part Angelica syrup
3 parts tonic water (I love Fever Tree)
generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or to taste)

Stir thoroughly and serve in a tumbler with plenty of ice, a slice of lemon and Angelica leaves.

Close your eyes and prepare to be fooled.



March 24, 2014

Jam & Gin at The Ethicurean




The Ethicurean is a hidden gem. Situated below an overgrown Georgian estate, housed in two unassuming glasshouses within the exquisite Barley Wood Walled Garden, it's the perfect size - not too big, not too small with a menu to match - lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails and dinner.


Throughout the day, there's great coffee and all manner of drinks and sips to be had; outdoor space to enjoy, all overlooking the generous walled garden well-stocked with espaliers of greengages and apricots, neat vegetable beds and fragrant herbs.

Staying true to the name, the Ethicureans; Jack, Iain, Matthew and Paula are purveyors of entirely seasonal, local and ethical British produce and have co-wrote the most beautiful cookbook I've seen in years. So when last year I was asked to supply seasonal preserves to serve with their afternoon teas, I jumped at the opportunity. Working with like-minded people who are passionate about the provenance of food and who cook with the seasons is always inspiring and motivating.


The Ethicurean's brilliance and reputation is founded on a 'sense of place' - the idea of looking at food as having its own story or narrative - rooted in the landscape, its history and the community who grow food locally upon it. These strong links also exist between  the kitchen and the bar; where drinks complement individual dishes and reflect the area. Their 'Old Fashioned Cocktail' is made up of a burnt oak cider brandy, with chipotle, vanilla and toffee apple syrup - which is a product from the kitchen - so it's also a drink with its roots in Somerset. 

Intrigued by this whole idea, I asked Jack - resident mixologist and restaurant manager - if he would create a cocktail using one of my seasonal preserves. Happily he agreed and came up with this recipe aptly named 'Rheum with a View,' using one of my rhubarb jams.



The resulting cocktail, tinted peachy pink, has a flavour not too boozy, a balance of bitter and sweet with subtle overtones of rose and cardamom. Jack used Sipsmith Gin as the base, which complemented the other flavours perfectly. A wonderful pre dinner cocktail to while away some time in the garden as the days begin to lengthen.


'Rheum with a View'
created by Jack Adair Bevan

50ml Sipsmith Gin
1 tbsp Rhubarb, Rose & Cardamom jam (see recipe below)
egg white of 1 free range egg
dash of Angostura bitters

Shake all the ingredients in a boston shaker. Add ice and shake again. Strain ito a chilled coupe and serve with raw rhubarb and sugar.  

Rhubarb, Rose & Cardamom Jam
Fills 3-4 x 225g (8oz) jars
  
1 kg early pink rhubarb (trimmed weight)
500g cane sugar
juice of 1 lemon
100ml freshly pressed apple juice
crushed seeds from 5 cardamom pods
3 small rose geranium leaves

Day 1: Trim the rhubarb and cut into 4-5cm lengths. Put into a large bowl and pour the sugar over it. Add the apple and lemon juice. Combine well, with your hands, until all of the rhubarb pieces are coated with the sugar. Cover with a clean tea towel or cling film and leave overnight at room temperature. The juices from the rhubarb will be drawn out.

Day 2: Place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a preserving pan or a large heavy-based saucepan. Gently rub the geranium leaves to release their oil and place in a spice ball or piece of muslin knotted securely. Add to the macerated rhubarb with the crushed cardamom. Gently heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat and cook at a lively boil until thickened (about 15-20 minutes), skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat, stirring frequently, to prevent the jam from sticking. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring continually, until no longer watery. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened. Remove the spice ball or muslin containing the rose geranium.

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the jam, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. This jam, while spreadable, has a relatively loose texture.

Pot in warm, dry sterilized jars, and seal. Store in a cool place and refrigerate once opened.


 






March 14, 2014

Life Changing Raw Chocolate Butter

There are days when nothing else will quite hit the mark. It's just got to be chocolate. Not just any old chocolate but real chocolate. And I just know you're going to thank me for this one.


Yesterday was one of those days. The morning was taken up going through my inbox, sorting out a bank issue, which resulted in being put on hold five times, pinging texts to my essay-stressed daughter whose computer had crashed, all to the acoustics of our roof being replaced. By lunch time my nerves were frazzled. The sensible thing would have been to get outside, go for a stomp over the fields, or pull up weeds at the fruit plot (there's plenty). Instead it seems as though the most critical thing to do is make raw chocolate butter. When I finally put my finger on what it was I wanted I had whipped up a batch so fast I even had a chance to enjoy it before the roofers were back. It was awesome. And yes, I should have had lunch first. Oh well.

Often when I'm finding it hard to get things accomplished it's the ordinary, everyday, methodical actions of weighing out, slicing, stirring or whatever that seem to bring life back into some sort of balance or order. And the great thing about this recipe is that no cooking or baking is required. Just some simple measuring, blending, a teeny bit of melting and presto you are minutes away from chocolate-y heaven.

Obviously this recipe is really, really yummy. Dangerously so. In fact it's so good  I will go as far to say this recipe might just change your life. A totally raw - no added sugar - but full throttle insanely rich - yet creamy - pot of deliciousness. A little piece of heaven on earth really. Its secret lies in the quality of the ingredients. And happily each one offers something fabulous to give your body a boost. Don't believe me? Here's the list.

Medjool Dates are a good source of fibre and contain high levels of potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese.

Cacao Butter also known as cocoa butter, is the creamy fat extracted from the cacao tree and is extremely high in antioxidants.

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs). MCTs are easily digested and absorbed to produce energy and stimulate metabolism.

Raw Cacao Powder is one of the best sources of magnesium found in nature in addition to containing high amounts of calcium, zinc, iron, copper  and potassium.

Lucuma Powder is a superfruit and a total superfood. It is sweet, but low on the glycemic scale, so it is perfect for anyone looking to decrease their sugar consumption. Lucuma also contains antioxidants, fibre, healthy carbohydrates and minerals such as zinc, calcium and iron.

So all in all, a guilt free choco-treat to feel good about. Now if that isn't life-changing, I don't know what is.

I flavoured mine with a few wisps of lemon rind and a couple of pinches of sea salt. The combination of savoury and tangy mingled with rich velvety chocolate hit the spot for me, but feel free to add your own enhancements. I've given a few suggestions at the end of the recipe.

Raw Chocolate Butter with Lucuma, Lemon & Salt
  
100g very soft, pitted Medjool dates (about 6)
*45g cacao butter
*45g raw coconut butter or oil, flavour-neutral (i.e. that it does not taste like coconut) 
*1 tbsp lucuma powder
zest of 1 organic lemon
2 pinches of flaky sea salt
1/2 cup of filtered water

*You can find these at health food stores and speciality grocers.

Whizz the dates in a food processor until paste-like. Melt the cacao and coconut butter over a very low heat. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Add the lucuma powder, lemon zest and sea salt (or your preferred enhancements). Pour over the date paste and pulse a few times to combine. With the food processor running, slowly add the water. Process until smooth. You'll need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times to make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. If, unlike me, you can restrain yourself from eating it straight from the bowl, spoon into a warm sterilised jar and seal. Store at room temperature to prevent the butter from become to stiff.

Enhancements

Spicy Lime = zest of 1 organic lime + a pinch of chilli powder

Rose & Cardamom = a few drops of rose essential oil + a pinch of cardamom

Orange & Ginger = zest of 1 organic orange + a pinch of ginger

Lavender & Vanilla = a couple of pinches of dried lavender + 1 vanilla bean, scraped

Crunchy Mint = a few drops of mint essential oil + 1 tbsp unhulled hemp seeds



 

March 08, 2014

Pancakes revisited

I haven't made pancakes in years, mainly because I've always felt they are sort of 'pointless', much like Yorkshire pudding but in pancake form.

 

That said, when my daughter was old enough to hold a frying pan unaided, Shrove Tuesday did become a fixed date in the calendar. Partly because it provided the basis to a short burst of free entertainment, but also because it came with the promise of a novelty tea afterwards. From a child's perspective, what other day of the year could you get away with eating a whole pile of pancakes doused in sugar for tea?  I would usually try my best to avoid that part, but my husband, also partial to a pancake, would join ranks with our daughter and the two of them would bully me into pancake submission. And so from one year to the next after-school pancakes became the standard.

 

It's funny how traditions slip and with my daughter now happily ensconced in her second year at university I've started to miss the traditions we shared as a family. And, if I'm really honest, I have also felt a tad guilty for denying my husband his ritual pancake stack. So, feeling refreshed and inspired after a morning spent on the fruit plot, I returned to my kitchen with an unswerving resolve to resurrect the pancake into a tasty new form.


What I had on my mind was Apple and Salted Caramel Jam. The perfect antidote to a chilly early-March afternoon and just the right topping to make my pancakes really sing. It's no secret in my family that I've always had a penchant for salted caramel, but when paired with apples the flavour is sublime and strangely nostalgic. Just one whiff conjures up memories of falling leaves and open fires. 


The salted caramel adds a smooth toffee richness to the jam with just the right balance of salt to temper its sweetness. I imagine much like a slightly salted toffee apple would taste but way better. The success to its overall flavour relies solely on the apples. I like to use a mix of Bramley apples for sharpness and red apples (preferably a pink flesh variety) for perfume. The salted caramel is cooked separately and though there is a knack to getting the timing right, don't be put off. If you get stuck or are worried, David Lebovitz has provided a great tutorial here on making caramel. Just make sure you follow the instructions for 'dry' caramel.

Apple Jam with Salted Caramel
Makes x 3 235g jars

1.2 kg red apples (preferably a pink flesh variety)
325g unrefined cane sugar plus 300g (for the caramel)
600g Bramley apples (or 200g juice)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp sea salt

Rinse the Bramley apples and remove stems. Quarter and put through a juicer to extract the juice. You will need 200g juice. Add the lemon juice to prevent discolouration. In a non-reactive saucepan, heat the apple and lemon juice. Set aside.

In a preserving pan slowly melt the 300g of sugar dry, adding it little by little and stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar turns the colour of a new penny. Add the sea salt. Stop the cooking by pouring in the lukewarm Bramley apple juice. Take care as it will bubble up ferociously. Return the mixture to a boil until any hardened pieces of sugar have melted. Set aside.

Rinse the red apples, remove stems, quarter and core them. Place in a large saucepan with a small amount of water to prevent the apples from drying out. Half cover the saucepan with a lid and simmer until the apples are soft, topping up with a little more water if necessary. Put the apples through the fine disc of a food mill or rub through a nylon sieve.

Combine the apple puree to the salted caramel with the remaining 325g sugar and bring to a boil. Transfer to a ceramic bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight. If you don't have time you can skip this step. The jam will still taste good but I find the maceration process intensifies the flavour. 

Next day, transfer the mixture to a preserving pan and bring to a simmer. Raise the temperature to a high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the jam begins to thicken. Skim if necessary and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes or until the surface of the jam appears glossy. Check the set. Ladle into warm, sterilised jars and seal. 

Chestnut and Almond Pancakes
Adapted from Cannelle et Vanille
Makes 10

1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup chestnut flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 1/4 tsp milled chia seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
2 large free range eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 tbsp coconut sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
1 tbsp coconut butter, unflavoured (or unsalted butter)

In a medium bowl, combine flours, chia seeds and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar, almond milk, oil, vanilla and almond extracts.

Whisk yolk mixture into dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then gently fold into batter.

Warm butter in a cast-iron pan over medium heat. For each pancake, use half a ladle of batter and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and edges are set, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes more. 

Serve with the apple and salted caramel as a stack, each pancake spread liberally with the jam.
 









March 01, 2014

In praise of the wooden spoon

I'm often asked what special equipment I use for preserving. The truth is, I don't use impressive tools and gadgets but prefer instead the quiet meditative task of hand tools. One item I could never do without is a wooden spoon. For me, there's nothing like stirring a preserve with a wooden spoon in your hand, especially one that you've owned for a long time. I own a few, all equally loved, but today I've been drawn to one in particular, made by the lovely Anna Casserley who hand carves beautiful and functional spoons from locally sourced green timber. Anna, inspired by her grandfather, a master carver and woodsman, still uses his tools to this day, continuing the strong family line in the craft. 


She carved my spoon from a wild cherry felled in a local public car park. It's extremely light with a good long handle and a generous paddle with a slanted edge, to assure good surface contact with the bottom of the pan. 

Although functionality is a key aspect, it is not the thing that draws me to it. For me, there is an emotional and visceral reason to why I use wooden spoons, which comes in part from the comforting, familiar way wood feels in your hand, not cold and severe like stainless steel, or dull and characterless like plastic or silicone. Wood retains memories in a way that man-made alternatives cannot. 

It changes colour and texture, wears and ages, even changes shape. I can look at one of my wooden spoons and see a dent from a long Autumn of membrillo making, or the blue black smudge of last years Boysenberry jam. And when I use my spoons, I cannot help but feel that I am preserving the stories behind every jam, jelly and marmalade the spoon has stirred. It's the spoons history that adds something magical to each and every batch of jam. And the memories are handed down and shared through generations, with the help of all the hands that have done the stirring.


Today, this particular wooden spoon has partnered me in a day of jam making. Despite the lingering grey clouds, life inside my kitchen suddenly feels decidedly vibrant. A shard of afternoon sun manages to force its way through the dark winters sky, creating lovely shadows across the room. The jars of rhubarb jam I've just sealed appear translucent; jewel-like in their pinkness, making everything feel just a little bit more alive. A simple thing, but on a grey winters day, it turns out to be just the right amount of colour needed to remind me that Spring is on it's way.


This recipe is a two day day process, however, don't let that deter you. The rhubarb is macerated with freshly juiced blood oranges and a generous helping of raw ginger. The maceration process is essential because it draws out the juice of the rhubarb and intensifies its flavour. The final jam is a wonderful pink colour packed with bold flavours; the ideal antidote for cold, grey days. Perfect with good butter and sourdough toast, or served with thick yoghurt and granola.

Rhubarb, Blood Orange and Ginger Jam

Fills 6 x 225g (8oz) jars

2kg forced pink rhubarb (trimmed weight)
1kg unrefined cane sugar
Juice of 4 blood oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp freshly juiced ginger (or finely grated)

Day 1: Trim the rhubarb and cut into 4-5cm lengths. Put into a large bowl and pour the sugar over it. Add the blood orange, lemon and ginger juice and combine well, with your hands, until all of the rhubarb pieces are coated with the sugar. Cover with a clean tea towel or cling film and leave overnight at room temperature. The juices from the rhubarb will be drawn out.

Day 2: Place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a preserving pan or a large heavy-based saucepan. Gently heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat and cook at a lively boil until thickened (about 15-20 minutes), skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat, stirring frequently, to prevent the jam from sticking. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring continually, until no longer watery. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened.

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the jam, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. This jam, while spreadable, has a relatively loose texture.

Pot in warm, dry sterilized jars, and seal. Store in a cool place and refrigerate once opened.


February 23, 2014

A whole other story

Rhubarb. You either love it or hate it. As a child growing up I had an aversion to the stuff. It wasn't the sourness that I disliked (give me a bag of lip-puckering sharp rhubarb and custard sweets and you were a friend for life) but the green stringy stuff found lurking beneath a layer of soggy pastry that used to create ripples in the school dinner queue. Where was the jam roly poly? Or spotted dick? Now that's a whole other story.

This is not a post about rhubarb tart, just to clarify.


It was a revelatory moment, when planning my first fruit plot, to discover the different types of rhubarb varieties available. The best are produced in the Yorkshire Triangle - an area between Wakefield and Leeds - that specialise in growing forced rhubarb in heated sheds, traditionally powered by the coalfields, and harvested by candlelight. The tender pink stalks have a delicate flavour; a far cry from the wrist-thick stalks grown in our back gardens. So tender in fact, you can, if you felt so inclined, eat the stalks in their raw state. This is all to do with the roots being replaced every year. Clever eh? You can of course force your own rhubarb by sticking a bucket over the plant in Autumn and leaving it until the Spring when voila, the plant, deprived of daylight (a bit like me at the moment) will hopefully have produced some pencil thin, pink stalks. But for me, nothing beats the flavour of Yorkshire grown rhubarb and since they grow enough varieties through the season to satisfy the needs of all rhubarb lovers, I've been hooked ever since.


This is a post for rhubarb curd.

First, back to the rhubarb and custard sweets. I was never one for midget gems or dolly mixture as a child. It was the mouth fill I wanted; we're talking American hard gums, cough candy twists. The kind of sweets that grazed the roof of your mouth and sometimes made you dribble. Saturday afternoons just wouldn't have been the same without them, particularly if there was a cowboy and western on the telly. My mother, who arguably had the sweetest tooth in the house, would send me and my brother down to the corner shop to choose a quarter of sweets and we'd suck, crunch and slurp our way through the whole film, blissfully unaware in the 1970s, I should add, of the distant mumblings about tooth decay, insulin spikes and gut rot that we are all now so aware of.

But, to be fair, giving up sugar can be extremely difficult, particularly if you're hooked. Having spent the past four years developing a range of fruit preserves sweetened with organic sugar, I've needed to evolve my business to meet the growing needs of people who don't wish to consume sugar, for health reasons or otherwise. My plan is to develop a range of products using natural sources of 'sugar' that are gentler on our bodies and that even retain many of their original nutrients. My current favourite is Agave Nectar, a whole food product that is low on the Glycemic Index scale, meaning that it won't cause huge fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels.


This recipe for rhubarb curd pays homage to the sweet I so loved as a child. Creamy and smooth with a distinct tang, it hits the spot. And the good news? It's naturally free of refined sugar and contains only wholesome ingredients. Perfect for swirling into yoghurt or ice-cream, smothering over shortbread, crumpets, teacakes, or even spooning straight from the jar. The possibilities are endless.

Rhubarb Curd
makes one 0.5 Litre Kilner jar

450g forced rhubarb (about 6 stalks)
4-5 large eggs (you need 200ml beaten egg)
125g diced unsalted butter 
4 tbsp agave nectar
4 tbsp water
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 vanilla bean  

Chop the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and place in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cook gently for about 20 minutes until the rhubarb is a puree consistency and no longer watery. Put through the fine disc of a food mill or rub through a nylon sieve.

Put the butter, agave nectar and rhubarb puree into a medium saucepan over a low heat. As soon as the butter has melted pour the beaten eggs through a sieve and whisk thoroughly. Split open the vanilla bean and add to the pan. Cook at a gentle heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened. This should take approximately 15 minutes. You will know it's done when the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the vanilla bean and pour the curd into a warm, sterilised jar. Seal and leave to cool.

The curd will last one week stored in the refrigerator.

Note: To safeguard against the eggs 'splitting' make sure the temperature of the puree is no higher than 55-60 C on a sugar thermometer when the egg is added.