The perfect jug and a helping of serendipity…

I’ve found the per­fect jug. Designed by Emma Lacey, it has a thumb-sized dimple in just the right place. Pick it up and it feels as solid, safe and simple as a pair of sturdy shoes, brown bread and but­ter, a pic­nic on the beach or rhu­barb and custard.

Serendip­ity is both a fant­astic word and a bril­liant concept. My new jug had already made me think of rhu­barb and cus­tard — serendip­ity sor­ted things out so that I got to eat it too. My very clever friend, the one who knows how to grow things and even bet­ter loves giv­ing them away, left a bas­ket of home-grown rhu­barb and a batch of her hens’ eggs on the door­step this morning.

It’s vir­tu­ally a ready-meal from the super­mar­ket — the con­tents of the bas­ket are more than three quar­ters of the way to being a bowl of baked rhu­barb and vanilla cus­tard. And that is what they became.…

Rhu­barb Baked With Car­da­mon and Kaf­fir Lime Leaf and Served With Vanilla Custard

Serves 3 or 4

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

600g rhu­barb cut into slices

2 table­spoons sugar

5 or 6 car­da­mon pods

1 kaf­fir lime leaf

Zest and juice of a tangerine

6 egg yolks

125g caster sugar

600 ml milk

One vanilla pod

Com­bine the rhu­barb with the tan­ger­ine zest and juice, 2 table­spoons of sugar, the car­da­mon pods and the kaf­fir lime leaf and spread out in a shal­low oven­proof dish. I had been plan­ning to add a star anise to the dish instead, but spot­ted the lime leaves and the car­da­mon pods in the cup­board first. I dis­covered that they brought a deli­cious zingy per­fume to the rhu­barb — another dose of serendip­ity as it turned out. Bake for 25 minutes until soft but not mushy.

To make the cus­tard, whisk the yolks with the sugar until pale and glossy. Warm the milk with the vanilla pod to boil­ing point. Add the milk to the egg mix­ture. Tip back into a clean pan and stir over a low heat until the cus­tard starts to thicken slightly. Don’t stop stir­ring and don’t let the cus­tard overheat.

Heap the rhu­barb on a plate, add a gen­er­ous puddle of cus­tard and you will be as far away from school din­ner rhu­barb and cus­tard as it is pos­sible to be. And that too is serendipitous.

What a lot of rhubarb

The same friend who gave me The Alice B Tok­las Cook­book for my birth­day has lent me a copy of the hard to find Futur­ist Cook­book. Pub­lished in Italian in 1932, it’s a mani­festo for the food of the future designed to lib­er­ate us from con­ven­tion, dull­ness and pasta. The recipes which com­bine touch, sound and smell include one called Aero­food, com­posed of a slice of fen­nel, an olive and a kum­quat, served with sand­pa­per, vel­vet and silk. Only the sand­pa­per need not be eaten appar­ently, but it must be fingered as the food is devoured. As the diners swal­low down the vel­vet and silk con­fec­tion, waiters are on hand to douse their heads with a large spray can.

The trouble with break­ing with con­ven­tion is that it can become a fash­ion in its own right. Which is how I found myself attempt­ing to smoke sal­mon over Lapsang tea leaves this week. It’s appar­ently effort­less, appar­ently fun and appar­ently deli­cious. Yes, to the first, no to the second and an abso­lute ‘you have to be kid­ding’ to the third. The chok­ing, bit­ter, bil­low­ing smoke caused my neigh­bour to knock at the back door to ask if we needed help. When the sal­mon was ‘ready’, my daugh­ter spat her piece out, my son ate his hold­ing his nose and our span­iel turned her back for the first time in her life. An appet­iser of vel­vet, silk — hell, even the sand­pa­per — would have been tastier.

There’s a won­der­ful line in a Jilly Cooper novel that ‘the only way to get the garden out of your nails is to wash your hair’. I can report that the only way to get Lapsang smoke out of your hair is to wash it not once, but three times. And I wanted to take my son’s saxophone-cleaning brush to my poor, choked throat.

Thank­fully, the neigh­bour who asked if we were ok had a bundle of rhu­barb under his arm. So we aban­doned the sal­mon and set to work on some­thing a little more deli­cious. Rhu­barb ice-cubes.

Rhu­barb Ice Cubes

Rhu­barb sticks — I used six chubby ones and ended up with half a litre of syrup

For each stick of rhu­barb, five tea­spoons of caster sugar and half a cup of water

Half a star anise for every two sticks

A bay leaf for every two sticks

Cut the sticks into 2cm pieces — snip­ping it straight into the pan with scis­sors is the quick­est way. Add the rest of the ingredi­ents and sim­mer for fif­teen minutes. Allow to cool slightly and strain into a jug (don’t be temp­ted to mush it down with a ladle because it will release an estu­ar­ial sandy-coloured slurry into your gor­geous pink brew). Let it drip until there’s no more liquid left in the pulp. The rhu­barb syrup is deli­cious stirred into a cock­tail, but it’s more showy to freeze it. I drank my cubes with gin and tonic.

I think the futur­ists would have liked rhu­barb ice cubes. But there aren’t any futur­ists left. Like tea-smoked sal­mon, they went out of fashion.