I am a language nerd. I spent this morning looking up why rhubarb, or rhabarber in German, is written with an h after the r. The latin word for rhubarb is rheum barbarus. Barbarus means foreign. Rheum is derived from the ancient greek rheu, and that’s where the h comes from. It indicates a certain pronunciation of the letter rho at the beginning of a word. Not that interesting? Alright. While I was looking all of this up I found some funny sentences in the book On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (highly recommended, by the way). On page 317 McGee writes that rhubarb’s “main use in the West is as a tart stand-in for fruit”. On page 367 he adds that rhubarb “often masquerates as fruit”. Both statements sound kind of mean, as if rhubarb stalks would sneak into our kitchens, drag the strawberries out of a pie and take their place only to dupe us. But I guess McGee has a point, because he also explains that rhubarb only became popular in pies and other sweet foods after sugar had become affordable. Since then it has been treated like a fruit and made palatable in desserts with tons of sweetener. But then it’s not the rhubarb that dupes us here. It’s the sugar. (See, sugar is bad.)
Last Sunday we were enjoying our last rhubarb stalks, baked into a crisp, which is basically nothing else than a very, very lazy pie. This is a simple and versatile recipe and almost every ingredient could be substituted with something else. I used coconut flour, but oat flour or even whole wheat flour would work. For the almond butter you could use any other nut butter as well. Oh, and if you don’t have rhubarb, use berries or even apples. I used a 22 cm bread pan (9-inch loaf pan) for this recipe, and that makes enough for three people. P complained that the filling wasn’t sweet enough. He’s probably right but it’s no problem to double the amount of sugar mixed with the rhubarb.
Last year, when my father visited us in Dresden, he brought a box of strawberries from a grocery store around the corner. “Those aren’t good. You should not buy them,” I said. He tasted a berry and replied that they weren’t too bad. “But they are terrible compared to those we can get at home in our village!” I guess ten kilograms of childhood memories came out with that sentence. When we were children my dad would buy fresh strawberries on Sundays. Sometimes we helped him wash and slice them, sometimes he would even let us whip the cream. Nothing was better than those fresh strawberries. We ate them straight from the plant if we got the chance. For example during our bike rides, when we picked some at the edge of a field. Or when we emptied the patches in our neighbour’s garden. All these memories came back when I told my father that the strawberries here in the city weren’t good. He disagreed. He told me that the fruits back home weren’t that much better anymore. He even thought they were worse. I didn’t believe a word of what he said. That simply couldn’t be true.
During this years Pentecost vacation F and I made a trip to my parents’ place. My father picked us up from the main station in Bremen. On our car ride to my parents’ village, we drove by several strawberry fields. I got exited and mentioned something about eating them for breakfast every day. My father said I should probably find something else to eat. They had changed the breed a couple of years ago, he elaborated. Those berries weren’t worth the trouble anymore. Yes, they kept well but most of the flavour was gone. Why would he say that? Some weird berry conspiracy theory? Did he not remember how we all loved to eat strawberries together? That he always would pick them up for us? The next day F and I prepared lunch. Suddenly my father stepped into the kitchen with a box of strawberries in his hand. I smiled. I told F that this would make such a wonderful dessert. Then I looked at the strawberries. They looked vary pale. I asked my father, “Why did you bring these? Were the good ones sold out?” “No,” he replied. “They do all look like that now. I thought that if you tasted them you would finally believe me.” I was still in denial. I gave one to my daughter. “Taste it! The best strawberries you can get.” She tasted and then looked at me disgusted. I said: “But those are good.” It wasn’t true. I didn’t believe what I just said. I think I just wanted to share an important childhood memory with my daughter. But there was nothing to share. I was disappointed and those strawberries were just pale, sour, and watery.
Okay, okay. Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe I am turning into one of these “everything was better in the old days” person now. Or maybe it was just the beginning of the season and I need to give those strawberries some more time to grow. There are other childhood memories to share or to improve. Like my relationship with rhubarb. This vegetable/fruit was something I mostly ignored when I was a kid. At least when it came to baked goods. Our neighbours made tons of rhubarb cakes and many grown ups tried to trick me into liking it. They pretended it was great in desserts. They pretended it was sweet. But it wasn’t. There was never enough sugar in those cakes and a kilogram of whipped cream could not change that. Back then I thought those neighours wanted us to give up our sweet tooth. But that wasn’t true. Nobody tricked us. Rhubarb was something we did not appreciate very much. We spent our afternoons stuffing our face with strawberries instead.
Now that those strawberries are disenchanted I can finally appreciate the tartness of rhubarb. It’s now my daughter who refuses to eat it. But you can make very sugary things from rhubarb, too. Sugar can be used as a preservative, for example in jams. Or syrups.They are very simple to make and they can be kept in the fridge for 1 or 2 weeks. I made a batch for my ice cream recipe, but it’s also a base for refreshing lemonade. (Simply dillute it with (sparkling) water.) If you want something tarter, rhubarb compote is a great choice, depending on how much sugar you add. For my ice cream I didn’t use too much sugar, but if you want to pair the compote with oatmeal or grießpudding, you can double the amount of sugar used. Just adjust it to your taste.
There are a couple of wonderful methods to make vegan ice cream, but I like to try something new from time to time. I admit it’s definitely not the easiest and fastest method to make ice cream. But I’ll also talk about a couple of shortcuts in a minute. This version calls for whipped chickpea brine (called aquafaba), which improves the texture a lot and makes the ice cream light and easy to scoop. In fact, even after over a week in the freezer, this batch still had a consistency similar to soft serve. Since we’re without an ice cream machine rightn now, I used my blender method for this recipe. That is a bit involved, but it will produce similar results to ice cream from a machine.
If you thing this all sounds to complicated, I have a couple of ideas for you: You can leave out the aquafaba and make this into a “regular” coconut based ice cream. You can also use an ice cream machine, if you have one. If you wanto to use a machine and include the whipped aquafaba, churn the coconut milk and syrup mixture and fold in the whipped chickpea liquid once the machine is done. Then proceed to freeze it, add the compote, and freeze until solid. If you don’t have an ice cream machine or a blender, make a simple semifreddo by combining the coconut milk and syrup mixture and the compote. Pour it into a container and freeze it until solid. Instead of scooping it out, you can slice it for serving. Another tip is to split up the workload and prepare both the syrup and the compote a day in advance.
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