I’ve been a bad food writer. I was passing through my favourite greengrocer and second home, Stoke Newington Green, the other morning, picking up a basket of mushrooms and pumpkins, clementines and walnuts. So far, so orange and brown and seasonally correct. I almost made it out. There, by the counter, was my temptress and seducer. A box of definitely-out-of-season Dutch rhubarb so spectacularly scarlet it was in my basket quicker than you can say crimson. Reader, I was weak.
I love red. I can’t resist it. The late, legendary American decorator Albert Hadley believed you should have a touch of red in every room. (His powerful client list reads like a roster of libraries, museums and hospital wings with all its Astors, Paleys, Rockefellers, Gettys and Whitneys.) A cushion, a rug, a vase of roses or berries, a pot of amaryllis, an enamel colander or a lacquer tray. Just a shot. It shakes up a room like a slick of red lipstick against a pale face. It’s also my emergency prescription for anything that looks too wearyingly tasteful.
So anyway, this is my long-way-around attempt to explain my food writer apostasy. Rhubarb in November. So shoot me. It will leave a lovely stain.
Stoke Newington Green, 39 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0NX
Open every day, 7am – 10ish pm
Rhubarb and vanilla jam
If there is a prettier way of starting the day than a spoonful of this jam swirled through some Greek yoghurt, I don’t know what it is.
Makes 4-5 340g jars
1kg rhubarb, trimmed weight, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1kg jam sugar with added pectin
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of a small orange
Juice and pips of a small lemon
Pour a layer of sugar in the bottom of a preserving pan or large saucepan and then add a layer of rhubarb. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with a small, sharp knife and place the seeds on top of the rhubarb with the pod. Continue layering the sugar and rhubarb, finishing with a layer of sugar. Cover and leave overnight to macerate.
The next day, place a couple of saucers in the freezer. Pour the juices over the rhubarb and tie the pips from the lemon in a small circle of muslin with kitchen string. Place the bundle in the pan too.
Warm the jam gently, stirring it slowly from time to time to dissolve the sugar without breaking up the chunks. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring to a rolling boil and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. This should take about 8-10 minutes. This is a soft-set jam so don’t wait for it to get too solid. A droplet of the jam on one of the chilled saucers should just wrinkle when you push it with your finger.
Remove from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes and remove the muslin bag. Seal the jam in warm, sterilised jars. Either discard the vanilla pod or snip a little bit into each jar. Unopened and kept in a cool, dark place the jam should keep for a year.