Lordy, Slack. Not rhubarb again.

Yes. Again.

I know. Every year, come the forced rhubarb season, I get a bit myopic. I’m sorry, but I just can’t help it. The baby pink stems. The welcome sweetness. In a month otherwise bereft of fruity flavours, (heck we haven’t seen fruit since the apple harvest, I can hardly remember the taste of strawberries) one can’t reasonably be criticized for clinging to rhubarb for dear life like a fruity piece of drift wood in the culinary ocean of the Hungry Gap.

Let’s recap: forced rhubarb is a different beast from maincrop rhubarb. Forcing is when light is excluded (either by growing it in cave, covering it with a pot or, if you’re feeling very Victorian, putting it in a forcing shed attached to your glass house…what do you mean you don’t have one?) so the plant panics and concentrates on sending up tall stems in search of light rather than spending energy on greenery. No photosynthesis – no point in leaves. It’s this forcing that a) gives an early harvest and b) makes the stems so much sweeter than main crop.

Rhubarb is a bit of a dark horse. It’s not something we generally use terribly regularly, but it goes with a huge variety of ingredients. Savoury: mackerel, pork, goats cheese. Sweet: ginger, almonds, white chocolate, orange. And today: saffron.

A word on saffron (I’ve been asked about it and, ever generous, am always happy to have an excuse to tinker, plus I was sent a sample by  producer, Saff Tali, so it’s a great opportunity to try it). Saffron is the stigmas of a particular type of crocus. Inevitably picking brings with it some of the style (brain cogs clunking with effort back to GCSE biology…) and the more style in the mix, the less intensely flavoured, and therefore cheaper, the saffron. There are whole ISO categories given over to determining the amount of ‘floral waste content’ (i.e.: stuff other than stigma) and therefore the purity of saffron sold. It’s an industry rife with counterfeits and poor imitations so do make sure you don’t buy it if:

  • a raw strand tastes sweet
  • the strand gets paler when soaked in water
  • the guy in the souk tells you it’s the ‘cheapest and best’

This article in The Kitchn is a useful read. Ignore the basic rules of saffron buying and you might end up buying sweetcorn husk or dried marigolds. And no one wants to cook with that now do they?

So, rhubarb and saffron – aromatic, colourful, unusual – what’s not to like. Sponge carries the flavour of saffron beautifully and, never one to shy from mixing the unusual with the traditional, this feels like a job for a steamed pud. With custard, obviously….

Rhubarb and Saffron Pudding

  • 2 stems forced rhubarb
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Good big pinch saffron strands soaked in 1 tbsp water
  • 50g self-raising flour

Serves 2.

Finely chop the rhubarb into 5mm chunks. Toss in the brown sugar and cook in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar has melted and the rhubarb is just soft at the edges. Pop into a bowl to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together until very fluffy and pale (about 3 minutes beating). Add the egg to the mix gradually, beating well with every addition. Add the saffron with its water and beat well. Fold in the flour. The mix should just drop off an upturned spoon.

Line the bottoms of two 6 fl oz pudding basins with a circle of greaseproof paper and butter the sides. Spoon in the rhubarb mix followed by the sponge batter. Cover with greaseproof paper, secured with an elastic band and steam for 20 minutes.

If you don’t have a steamer, set a large pan over a medium heat with 2cm of water in the bottom. Pop an upturned plate on the bottom, sit the pudding bowl on top and clamp a lid on. As long as the pudding isn’t sitting in water you’ll be fine.

Once cooked, remove from the basin and serve with custard, naturally.

Whilst you’re tucking in, a bit of housekeeping…

We’ve some cookery classes and demos coming up soon (you know about our next supper club already). Details below. Hope you can come! Tell us about your steamed saffron puds if you do.