Rhubarb is a very ancient plant. When rhubarb began to grow, the Dead Sea was just getting sick. When rhubarb started out, history lessons were called “What is happening right now”. When rhubarb was discovered, rainbows were all in black and white. And so on…
You get what I’m saying. Rhubarb has been used as a food and a medicine since the Early Times, the earliest records dating back to 2700 BC in Ancient China. A powerful purgative, it was a favourite dose for the Imperial families of the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties.
What is less known about it in these modern times is its old reputation as a magical aid. Russian witches such as the notorious crone Baba Yaga would gather rhubarb from the banks of the Volga river and use it as an all-purpose ingredient for spells and potions, due to its quality of attracting and gathering magical influences to the place that it is at.
Any self-respecting witch would have a clump of rhubarb growing in her garden so that she could snap off a stalk and stir the pot, infusing the contents with both a delicious tart flavour and maximising the magical potential of her brew.
This being the case, now that summer rhubarb is beginning to come into the shops it is advisable to use it as often as possible, and ideally grow your own.
Rhubarb & Marzipan Cupcakes
60g castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Finely chopped rhubarb, 3 tablespoons
100g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Icing sugar, rhubarb juice & red food colouring or squeezy icing in a tube.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with cupcake cases. I am using silicone cupcake moulds, because I got some for my birthday. You will observe no doubt that my familiar Cujo is assisting the baking process by walking his enormous Maine Coon paws through the baking area. UNHYGENIC. Not recommended. But I am weak and fragile on a Sunday morning and allowed it.
Cream the butter & sugar until fluffy. Add the almond extract and chopped rhubarb.
Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add an egg and 2 tablespoons of flour mix to the butter mix. Stir to just combine. Repeat until it is all mixed together. Add the rest of the flour along with the milk, and stir well.
Grate in the marzipan. Bake for 17-20 minutes. The cakes should be golden and springy if you press them with your finger.
These are very moist and yum, like little pudding cakes. You can make a zesty drizzle for them with juiced rhubarb and icing sugar easily if you have a juicer. If you don’t have a juicer, grate rhubarb over a bowl, and you should be able to get a few tablespoons of juice that way. Add a few drops of red food colour, otherwise it tends to look muddy.
You can also use plain pink, green or red squeezy icing, pre-prepared, and decorate with crystalized rose petals. I chose that option because of my incredible laziness. Also, I tend to muck up drizzles by adding too much fluid. NEVER ADD TOO MUCH FLUID TO A DRIZZLE.
To accompany these little cakes, you have various options. Rhubarb & Ginger gin makes a fantastic G&T, especially with the addition of a few drops of rhubarb cordial, which is available from IKEA. You could also use syrup from a can of rhubarb. Rhubarb retains its mystical/delicious qualities regardless of how it has been processed.
Preserved hibiscus flowers are an ideal addition, as they have a tender, tart quality which goes perfectly with rhubarb.
Infusing a bottle of vodka with rhubarb is also a good plan. Simply chop some fresh ripe rhubarb and add to a bottle, then keep it at room temperature for a minimum of 3 days.
This makes a really refreshing iced drink, especially with fiery ginger beer.
Or you could try one of these:
3oz rhubarb-infused vodka
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz simple syrup (or .5 oz Cointreau)
Slice 1 side off a fresh strawberry and set the smaller portion aside to decorate the drink with. Crush and muddle the rest of the berry in a shaker along with the lime juice and syrup. Add the vodka, top the shaker up with crushed ice and shake well to blend and chill.
Strain into a chilled glass and pop the strawberry garnish on the rim.
This has potential as a summer punch if you used the whole 70cl bottle of vodka, 4 oz lime juice, 2oz syrup or Cointreau and 8 berries, chopping the garnishing slices and floating them in the punchbowl with a couple of mint leaves and a big bottle of Cucumber Water or a box of orange juice.
Thanks to my coven sister Vicky for the Rhubarb & Ginger gin, Laura Gustine for the cupcake moulds, and Monica Shelley for the rhubarb from her allotment.
If all else fails, at least dip a stick into sugar and have a crunchy mouthful of it at some point. And if you’re making any magical workings this summer, don’t forget to do like Baba Yaga and add rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb for potency.