Rhubarb is a reliable main crop, sticking with us through the seasons and delivering comfort in pudding and custard form. But reliable is really a misnomer; it belies its quirkiness – a fruit that is a vegetable, a sour interloper on the sweet menu, an unlikely bedfellow of fish and meat, and (often) both the first and last homegrown fruit of the year to grace our tables.
So we are celebrating rhubarb this month in all its quirky reliability. It is beginning to arrive as part of our Low Sizergh Barn Crop for the Shop initiative in which local growers bring us their surplus produce and exchange it for a gift voucher. And this Charlotte is the perfect recipe to showcase its contradictory sweet tartness – with the elderflower providing a gentle balance.
Rhubarb and Elderflower Charlotte
1.1kg/2lb 7oz trimmed Crop for the Shop rhubarb
3 elderflower heads
55g/2oz Winter Tarn butter, plus extra for buttering
115g/4oz granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
6 medium slices Grange Bakery white bread
Preheat the oven to fan 180°C/gas 5. Trim the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm/1in lengths. Dip the elderflower heads into a bowl of cool water, shake off the excess water, and strip the tiny flowers from their green stems. Discard the stems.
Melt 55g/2oz butter in a wide, no-corrosive saucepan over a low heat. Add the rhubarb, elderflowers and 115g/4oz sugar. Mix thoroughly and stir occasionally until the rhubarb begins to soften and release some juice. Sweeten to taste if necessary, then tip into a 20x30xm/8x12in oval baking dish.
Liberally butter the bread on both sides, then cut off the crusts. Cut each slice into four triangles. Arrange over the fruit in overlapping rows and press down so that the bread can soak up some of the juice as the rhubarb cooks. Sprinkle the bread with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the bread is golden and crisp and the fruit is bubbling and soft. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from National Trust Simply Baking by Sybil Kapoor, £25.00