Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb (to which I add sweet cicely) and yes, it is still the season for everything rhubarb. In his book Herbal (1597) Gerald says: It purifieth the bloud and makes the wenches look faire and cherry-like'. Rhubarb was indeed used for medicinal purposes, long before it reached the kitchen table. Hannah Glasse writing in the Compleat Confectioner (circa 1760), suggests that she was ahead in the rhubarb game, when she cooked the plant: These tarts may be thought odd, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour.
Rhubarb crumble is a well tried and tested pudding and stem ginger is an interesting addition in a fool or jam . Historically, the herb sweet cicely was cooked with rhubarb. The clue is in its name; sweet cicely conquers the tartness of the rhubarb plant. Some will suggest that a couple of handfuls of sweet cicely reduces the required sugar content by 50% but my rule of thumb is a third, and when possible, I taste my guess-estimated effort during the cooking process.
A rhubarb sorbet is light and delicious on a warm, early summer day but my current favourite will suit vegans who like a mousse but want to avoid gelatine. My mousse is set with carrageen that I gather at low spring tides on the Isle of South Uist. I wash it well and then dry the shaken fronds on a sunny windowsill. There is more information in Seaweed in the Kitchen. Dried carrageen is readily available from good health food stores.
On the UK mainland, strawberries that have been grown in poly-tunnels are now available in shops, and in the countryside, elderflower blossom is emerging. Elderflower cordial or blossom infused sugar, finds perfect union with ripe strawberries. Go with the heady scent of honeyed elderflower or add sweet cicely, if you prefer aniseed. Enjoy your early summer strawberries with a hint of wild flavour - the choice of which I leave with you.
Strawberry and Sweet Cicely Mousse
Suitable for vegans
15g carrageen - rehydrated
400ml coconut milk
200ml soya milk
225 gm local strawberries
Tablespoon sweet cicely finely chopped (optional)
4-5 teaspoons caster sugar (to taste)
Rehydrate the carrageen by soaking it in a small bowl of cold water. Put the rinsed and towel patted dry carrageen into a pan with the coconut and soya milk. Heat over a low heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the carrageen is very soft. Strain the milk through a sieve into a large jug, using the back of a spoon to push as much of the natural carrageen gel through. Add two teaspoons of caster sugar (infused with wild blossom if you have it) and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Blend 200g of the strawberries in a food processor with 2-3 teaspoons of caster sugar (to taste) to make a puree. Add the finely chopped sweet cicely mix and pour the puree into a small jug.
Line a 600ml mould with cling-film. Slice the remaining strawberries and pop them in the base of the mould. Add 75ml of the strawberry purée into the warm sweetened milk and carrageen and stir to blend. Pour the mixture into the lined mould and refrigerate until set.
Turn the mould onto a plate and serve with the remaining strawberry and sweet cicely purée