A sunny day, a ditsy dress and one glimpse of some pink rhubarb stems in my local store sees me turn into a modern day Emma Bovary in less than 5 seconds. Just as Monsieur L’Heureux provided temptation, with his Parisian luxuries, which the ill- fated heroine, Emma, could not resist, the sight of these tender, tart stems sees me wanting rhubarb as if it had just been featured in Vogue magazine!
This is special rhubarb on the shelf; delicate, fragrant and available earlier than the varieties in my Kitchen Garden, because it has been forced into early growth.
Forced rhubarb starts arriving in the shops from January onwards and it is a long and costly process to produce these delicate shoots. The rhubarb crowns are grown in the fields for two years then carried gently, into dark, windowless sheds in around November, after the first frosts. The lack of light draws up the stems taking energy from the roots, creating a tender crop with a sweet flavour which is harvested by candlelight so that the stems do not turn green.
Today, spring is in the air and I want to make something special with Rhubarb for Easter, so I greedily place 3 slender bunches in my basket… I pass the dairy counter and see a pot of custard so luscious and luxuriously tempting that I almost tear open the pot there and then and drink it from the carton! Emma Bovary had custard for her wedding feast, “Yellow custard in great dishes, which would undulate at the slightest jog of the table, displayed on its smooth surface the initials of the wedded pair in arabesques of candied peel.” This custard is a sign! So I buy it and hurry to my car. The excitement of the rhubarb and the custard has made me feel quite heady and I need to get back to the soothing shade of the kitchen. This sun has gone to my head!
Driving home, my thoughts are still with poor Emma and the disappointment of being married to Charles whose “conversation was as commonplace as a street pavement”, no wonder she needed the clothes and plenty of custard!
I am going to make a dessert from the two ingredients I have bought; a dish with the classic combination of Rhubarb, scented and sweetened with Sweet Cicely and with custard fragrant with vanilla.
Perfectly easy to make and so pretty to serve; a sweet fancy to cheer our day and blow away the cobwebs of our “bourgeois lives”. And fit for an Easter Feast.