Stewed rhubarb ramblings

August 8, 2006

a field of rhubarb
A field of rhubarb at Riverford

Who needs another recipe for stewed rhubarb? I hear you cry. To which I can only hang my head in shame and mutter half-hearted apologies…

Stewed rhubarb

Take rhubarb. Peel if stringy. Add one third the weight of fruit in sugar. Add a little orange juice and peel, if you fancy it. Put in a pan with a close-fitting lid and no water. NO water (Mum, are you listening?). Cook gently for 10 minutes. Take off lid and raise heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is a dryish puree.

This recipe is from Victor Gordon’s slightly batty The English Cookbook. Written in the 1980’s it was a valiant attempt to kick-start a ‘new English cookery’ movement. In some ways, this book was ahead of it’s time in celebrating local food production, seasonality and regional cuisines. In other ways, it seems like a Thatcherite attempt to defend British gastronomic traditions (an oxymoron?) from corrupting foreign influences.

Here’s Victor’s manifesto, in a nutshell:

“the new English cookery will rely on traditional farm and garden produce, wild food from countryside and northern waters, and a select group of exotics which… have become naturalised British. Tastes and ingredients which are particularly associated with, say, French or Mediterranean, tropical or oriental cooking should almost all be banned – using Pernod or Calvados, for example, the marriage of tomatoes and basil, Indian and Indonesian spicing techniques…”

Now, what do you make of that? Isn’t that the ‘local food’ movement taken to it’s logical extreme? How would a dedication to this gastro-nationalism change the way we cook and eat? Is it possibe to live without tomatoes and basil?