I get excited by flamingo-hued rhubarb: their slender, tender spears attached to plumes of attractively vibrant yellow-green leaves are a delight to behold. Rhubarb, which has fruity, tangy flavour when cooked, is plentiful in kitchen gardens, farmers’ markets and even supermarkets at this time of the year. I love turning it into jams, drinks, cakes, and puddings – like this one.
Traditionally, you can flavour any rhubarb dish with ginger, cinnamon, strawberries or orange – but I have left this basic recipe plain, and have simply perfumed it with vanilla. You can build on it as you wish.
This is an old-fashioned recipe, dating back to the era of my grandmother’s generation. It contains vegetarian gelatine, which makes the rather runny rhubarb mixture set quickly and easily. These days, fools are usually made without gelatine, and often with yoghurt rather than double cream. Although thick, creamy Greek yoghurt will work fine in this recipe (not the insipid, low-fat variety), double cream gives the necessary opulent texture. And if you don’t mind your fool being somewhat sloppier, you can leave out the vegetarian gelatine altogether (omit step 4).
For variation, add a tablespoon of rosewater for a taste of Victorian England, and then garnish the fool with a few ruby-red pomegranate seeds to bring it back to the 21st century. Serves 4.
2 lb/ 1 kg forced rhubarb
1 vanilla pod (vanilla bean), split, with seeds scraped out
8 oz/ 200g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ oz/ 7g sachet of vegetarian gelatine, such as Vege-Gel
15 fl oz/ 400 ml double cream
1. Wash the rhubarb, trim the leaves and stems, and chop into small pieces.
2. Place the rhubarb, vanilla pod and seeds, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Do not add extra water, as the water clinging to the rhubarb pieces is enough. Cook on gentle heat until the sugar starts to melt. Simmer with the lid on for approximately 15 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked.
3. Remove from the heat, and mash the cooked rhubarb with the back of a spoon. Allow the mixture to cool a little. (If you want your fool to have a very smooth consistency, blitz the rhubarb in a blender for a few seconds).
4. Add the vegetarian gelatine to the rhubarb mixture, and stir thoroughly. When the gelatine has dissolved, place the bowl of cooked rhubarb over ice so that it cools and sets a little.
5. Whip the double cream for 2 or 3 minutes. Then mix the cream into the rhubarb, and divide the fool between 4 Martini glasses, or other types of glasses or cups. Lightly cover the containers with cling film. Chill in the refrigerator for 4 to 8 hours. Just before serving, remove the cling film, and accompany the fool with a small platter of shortbread biscuits or sponge fingers to dip into.