Reading Emma’s guest post about some of the fruit and vegetables grown by Victorian gardeners that have fallen out of favour with modern growers, got me thinking about the plants I grown here. Are there any Victorian veg growing out there in the garden? Well, it turns out that there are, and one of them is a seasonal favourite – rhubarb. It’s a plant that’s long been in cultivation… there are records of it being grown nearly 5,000 years ago in China, but much later on, it was popular with the Victorians too.
According to this article by Matthew Fort, not only did the Victorians breed many new varieties of rhubarb for the kitchen garden, they were also the first to start forcing it to produce early, tender stems.
My rhubarb plant probably wouldn’t have lasted long in the average Victorian garden. Given its habit of flowering every year, most self-respecting gardeners would have dug it up and added it to the compost heap long ago. This year it’s not just producing flower buds already, it hasn’t even bothered to grow many leaves. I’ve been able to pick a few stems… more than anything to try to remind the plant of its real purpose in life.
The small harvest of rhubarb stalks has at least meant that I could make a batch of spiced rhubarb slices. They’re based on a recipe in a booklet of dairy free recipes that’s been sitting on the kitchen shelf for some time. My son had been experimenting with using different combinations of fat (butter, margarine and white vegetable fat) to make pastry for a food technology assessment… the marg and veg fat combination was voted best for taste and texture, in case you were wondering. With the experiments over, there was still half a block of margarine left in the fridge. So a dairy free bake gave me the chance to use some of it up. The original recipe is for a date and apple slice, described as “fruity and crumbly”. The rhubarb gave the crumble slices a more seasonal flavour, I’ll save the apple idea for autumn.
As rhubarb is pretty good when it comes to healthy eating… low in calories and fat, high in fibre, and a source of vitamin A and calcium, I’m linking this recipe to April’s Family Foodies event. Family Foodies is jointly hosted by Louisa at Eat your Veg and Vanesther of Bangers and Mash. Louisa is taking her turn to host and choose the theme this month. The theme is Healthier Snacks, so if we overlook the sugar in these slices and focus on the oats and fruit, I think they might just be ok.
Spiced rhubarb slice
190g fresh, trimmed rhubarb, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp Lebanese 7 spice
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar, or thereabouts depending on your taste
125g rolled oats
125g self raising flour
125g block margarine
50g golden caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200oC/400F, gas 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment.
Put the rhubarb and orange juice into a small saucepan over a low heat and simmer until the fruit is falling apart tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the spice and soft light brown sugar. Taste the rhubarb to check it’s sweet enough for your taste.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the oats and flour then rub in the margarine until you have a mix that looks like lumpy breadcrumbs. Stir the sugar through the mixture.
Spoon half of the crumble mix into the prepared baking tin and press it down firmly and evenly. Top this with the cooked rhubarb, and then the last of the crumble. Press gently to level and firm the top layer of crumble. Bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into 8 pieces.