Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring Puddings and Rhubarb

Rhubarb, with its strikingly red stalks and large green leaves, became popular in Victorian England and by 1822 was the main ingredient in Spring Puddings.  The "pie-plant" was forced by the warmth of the waste water from the boilers of the factories... in Yorkshire...

A Spring Pudding in a Coventry cookbook of 1807 used spinach juice to make it a green color with butter, sugar and eggs, but no rhubarb.  Rhubarb or "pie-plant" could be boiled down, strained, then baked in a pie crust; or layered with bread slices; or put in a basin then boiled, as explained in the following spring pudding recipes.  A very early recipe for Rhubarb Tarts was found in Glasse's Complete Confectioner in 1800.  And finally... a really weird combo of rhubarb, prunes and tapioca cooked in... prune juice, from an ad in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of 1915.

Originally from China (as seen in this 1667 image), the roots were dried and used medicinally.  During the 19th century a large number of farmers grew the plant to eat as pies, puddings, marmalade/jam/jelly, wine, sherbet, soup or sauce.  An excerpt at the end of this posting describes some details of the growing, picking and bunching stalks of regular or forced (grown indoors) rhubarb.  


Take half a pound of butter, and melt it; and when cool enough, add to it six eggs, well beat; half a pound of loaf sugar, pounded; the rind of a lemon, grated, and the juice; a spoonsful or two of brandy, and a little nutmeg, and as much juice of spinage, as will make it a pretty green: lay a puff paste round your dish, (which must not be a deep one,) and bake it two hours.  [Ashburn, Addison.  The Family Director; or, Housekeeper's Assistant.  Coventry: 1807]


4 doz. sticks of rhubarb (or pie-plant), ½  lb. of loaf sugar, 1 lemon, 1 spoon of cinnamon.  Wash and peel the rhubarb, cut short, throw it into a stew-pan with the grated rind of the lemon, and cinnamon, and sugar ; set it to cook, reduce it to a marmalade, pass it through a hair sieve, have a pie-dish lined with good puff paste, and pour the pudding in ; bake half an hour.  [Allen, Ann.  The Orphan's Friend and Housekeeper's Assistant.  Boston: 1845]  [Later authors with the same recipe stated ‘1 dozen’ to ‘4 or 5’ sticks of rhubarb]


Ingredients.—4 or 5 sticks of fine rhubarb, ¼  lb. of moist sugar, ¾  lb. of suet-crust. Mode.—Make a suet-crust with ¾ lb. of flour, and line a buttered basin with it. Wash and wipe the rhubarb, and, if old, string it—that is so say, pare off the outside skin. Cut it into inch lengths, fill the basin with it, put in the sugar, and cover with crust. Pinch the edges of the pudding together, tie over it a floured cloth, put it into boiling water, and boil from 2 to 2 ½ hours. Turn it out of the basin, and serve with a jug of cream and sifted sugar. Time.—2 to 2 ½ hours. Average cost, 7d. Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons. Seasonable from February to May.  [Beeton, Isabella. Mrs. Beeton's Dictionary of Every-day Cookery. London: 1865]


Butter a pudding dish ; cover the bottom with a layer of bread and butter, then put a layer of rhubarb, with a plenty of sugar, (the rhubarb should be cut in small pieces and put in uncooked), next a layer of bread and butter, and so on, until the dish is full having the bread and butter on top; pour half a teacupful of water over the whole. Bake half an hour. To be eaten warm, not hot.  [Shute, Miss T. S.  The American Housewife: Cook Book.  Phila: 1878]


Take stalks of English rhubarb, that grow in the gardens, peel and cut it the size of gooseberries; sweeten it, and make them as you do gooseberry tarts. [To make green Gooseberry Tarts. You may either use them whole, or make a marmalade of them, with a good syrup; this last is the best method, for by this means you can easily judge how sweet they are]  These tarts may be thought singular, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour; the leaves of rhubarb are a fine thing to eat for a pain in the stomach, the roots for tincture, and the stalks for tarts.  [Glasse, Hannah.  The Complete Confectioner.  London: 1800]

SPRING PUDDING  - with prunes

Two cups rhubarb cut fine. Twenty stewed prunes. Cook the rhubarb and prunes in one cup prune Juice and one-half Cup water fifteen minutes. Add one-half cup Minute Tapioca and one small cup sugar and cook until tapioca is soft. Serve with cream and sugar.  [from an add in Hill, Janet McKenzie.  The Boston Cooking School Magazine.  1915]

Mary Eaton in her book The Cook and Housekeeper's Complete and Universal Dictionary [Bungay: 1822] listed many recipes for rhubarb – Pie, Pudding, Mock gooseberry-sauce for mackarel, Mock gooseberry-fool, Sherbet, Soup and a Tart. HERE

The Kitchen and Market Garden.  London: 1877 -

"Of late years this has become a much-sought-for and important vegetable, but half a century ago [1820s] it was scarcely known in the London market. … The leaf-stalks are pulled for market as long as there is a demand for them; and even in late summer large waggon-loads are often disposed of to jam manufacturers.

Large quantities of the early [forced] Rhubarb in our London markets come from Yorkshire. It is forced by the warmth of the waste water from the boilers of the factories in the neighbourhood of Leeds and Bradford, and has become a useful vegetable in January and February.  Rhubarb may be forced in an early Peach-house, in a Vinery, Mushroom house, Cucumber house, or under pots or boxes.
In bunching the Rhubarb for market, a piece of board, padded with a piece of an old bag, is nailed to the bench in the packing shed, and into it four nails or pegs are driven, two withies [osier rods] being laid crossways for tying. The finest leaves are placed in the bottom, the top and ends being alternate, and over them some small ones, making up the outside again with large stalks, so that the small ones are entirely hidden.
That the cultivation of Rhubarb is a profitable crop in America, as well as in England, may be seen from the fact that a market gardener, near Providence, sold in that market during one spring and summer nine tons of Myatt's Linnaeus Rhubarb from a quarter of an acre of land. Owing to very sharp competition, he only received £5 a ton for it, or about a halfpenny per pound."

For the complete book section click HERE 
Rhubarb in China.  Kircherus, Athanasius.  China Monumentis.  Amsterdam: 1667 
Rhubarb tied with Osier Rods in Commercial Gardening by John Weathers.  London: 1913
Alaska c1900  from Library of Congress

©2013 Patricia Bixler Reber

1 comment:

  1. Rhubarb would have been a welcome anti-scorbutic at the end of a 19th century winter.