There must be something in the air

14 March 2010

Oh my God, the sun has come out. And oh my God I cannot think about anything else. I cannot even think about food. I am one of those boring people that cannot help commenting on the weather. I think very cold weather is a conversational godsend: “Hello person-whose-name-I-don’t-know-but-who-was-sitting-right -opposite-me-in-the-library-when-I-accidentally-blasted-out-Billy-Joel-from-my-laptop, isn’t it freezing?” and you’re fine. Indisputable and universal observation made. Awkward silence avoided.

I find nothing more exciting than spring. Earlier this month, shivering in the library, hands numb, snow falling, writing about Adam Bede, I read this and snorted: ‘Bright February days have a stronger charm of hope about them than any other days in the year. One likes to pause in the middle rays of the sun, and look over the gates at the patient plough-horses turning at the end of the furrow, and think that the beautiful year is all before one… What a glad world this looks like, as one drives or rides along the valleys and over the hill!’

Now however, writing on the last day of February and the first day of sun, I completely see Eliot’s point. Looking at King’s handsome cattle, surely Cambridge’s equivalent to patient plough-horses, or cycling ‘along the valleys’ of Trinity Street, I envision a ‘beautiful year’ before me, full of long evenings and beautiful cycle rides, potentially – probably not, actually, I feel shaky just considering it – even ditching my helmet to really indulge in the picturesque. Within this vision, of course, food features.

The melted cheese cravings that the biting cold induces disappear with the snow. Suddenly you want something lighter and lovelier. Rhubarb is perfect and sort of in season now, or rather ‘forced’ rhubarb is. I can’t help pitying ‘forced’ rhubarb a bit. It sounds somehow exploited, like those little girls in the really not that scandalous news story, their chubby feet pushed into miniature high heels. Nonetheless rhubarb is available and satisfies one’s desire for something refreshing and fruity.

Rhubarb has a sour taste that can be muted with sugar while cooking. This sourness contrasts superbly with sweet vanilla ice cream. I also enjoy it spread into a sandwich combined with goats’ cheese. This may sound odd but really, I recommend it. Eat leaning over the balustrade of Clare bridge watching the sun glinting on the water sighing in melanin, architecture and gastronomy induced joy.

Rhubarb is incredibly easy to cook. Perfect for anyone in a college kitchen without an oven, is stewed rhubarb. Bung chopped rhubarb into a saucepan with some water and the same quantity of sugar. Cook uncovered on a low heat for quarter of an hour. Given the choice, however, I would roast it. Stewed rhubarb doesn’t maintain the fruit’s almost obscene rosy pinkness so well and can descend into a stringy mush if over cooked.

To make my rhubarb a little more exciting I replaced water with apple juice, the apple’s natural sweetness countering the rhubarb’s sourness, and added some vanilla essence left over from a baking phase.


– 400g rhubarb (available in Sainsburys for £2.99)

– 2 handfuls of caster sugar

– 2 cups of apple juice

– Sprinkling of vanilla essence


1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees

2. Wash rhubarb

3. Cut off rhubarb leaves (these are poisonous) and trim ends

4. Cut into finger-sized bits

5. Lay on roasting tray

6. Cover with apple juice

7. Sprinkle with sugar and vanilla essence

8. Roast for 20 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.