Since my last post, I picked up stakes and moved from sunny California to London, arriving in mid-October. The city is quite a contrast to my suburban West Coast home with it’s large garden and temperate climes. Here, the constant frigid grayness of January has merged into rainy, chilly February – which had me searching last weekend for signs of spring.
Delicate snow drops are peeking out of just-thawed dirt throughout London’s vacant lots, public parks and gardens. I took this photo at Chelsea Physic Garden last weekend.
Another sign showed up on the produce shelves at my local Waitrose grocery store. Known as “forced rhubarb”, this typically spring vegetable (that is treated like a fruit) is grown indoors under curious circumstances. Coming from an area known as the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire, the rhizome is initially started outdoors where it absorbs nutrients from the sun, and is moved indoors after the first frost in November. Once inside the rhubarb shed, it is grown in complete darkness and harvested by candlelight (Image courtesy ChicagoNow) throughout the winter months.
This treatment creates ruby red, subtly sweet and tender stalks. In 2010 the EU designated the rhubarb triangle a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin status – a recognition bestowed on such lofty products as Stilton for its cheese and Champagne in France.
The cheery crimson sticks make a great compote when cooked up with exotic spices. I used star anise, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick along with orange juice and zest and layered the compote with rich rice pudding in parfait glasses.
However the mixture would be tasty paired with your morning porridge or yogurt and granola or delicious served alongside sausages, roast pork or duck, turkey and chicken.
Start by cutting the trimmed stalks in 1 inch pieces.
Then simmer them in a wide saucepan with the sugar, spices and orange until just soft.
My hope is that this little taste of spring will stay with me until the days get longer, the gray skies clear and London bursts into the blooming, bird singing springtime of my dreams.
Spiced Poached Rhubarb
1 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut in 1″ pieces
2 whole star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
Juice and zest of 1 large navel orange
6 tablespoons brown, muscovado or coconut sugar
Combine all the ingredients in a wide saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so mixture is on a gentle simmer and cook until rhubarb is just-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and serve warm, room temperature or cold.
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups