My Great Great Grandpa's Cookbook: Rhubarb Tart
Each month I am cooking a recipe from my Great Great Grandpa's cookbook. For more on the book and my discovering it last year, see here.
Victor’s feelings on puddings in general he sums up quite wonderfully - they are to 'convey the greatest amount of pleasure to the taste with the least possible nourishment’. And so his Rhubarb tart, bringing some brightness to an otherwise very damp and dismal February, might contain the bright pink fruit but it also includes quite a bit of sugar - although the quantities were guessed at - he writes just to put in ‘plenty’ of the stuff. It is a beautiful dazzlingly bright pink on the table and together with the vanilla custard - an essential with the sharp tangy rhubarb since Victorian times it seems - it is a delight.
My research reliably tells me that forcing rhubarb began in the early 1800s, so by Victor’s day it would’ve been available (sometimes even in time for Christmas) in the London food markets. The thought of it being picked by candlelight (so as not to disturb the darkness essential for the texture and taste) and then brought down into town on a steam train is quite other-worldly. Victor’s recipe for a February menu includes a ‘Rhubarb tart’, served with vanilla custard (the only way) following a meal of Lentil puree (a soup of sorts), Brill with Hollandaise, Braised fowl and creamed spinach. Yes please to all of the above.
A match made in heaven, and also in a (Victorian) sweet factory. Victor’s recipe is for individual 'tarlettes', and although I made one large one this time (due to a distinct lack of individual tart cases in our kitchen) I would recommend smaller, individual tarts as the filling is quite runny. The pastry tastes almost exactly like trifle sponges, with a wonderful crunch - and the rhubarb inside is sharp, sweet and with a hint of lemon. Delicious, but also essential to pair it with the vanilla custard or it’s too sickly sweet an endeavour. Victor doesn’t have a recipe for a basic custard, I think he assumes it’s a given to know how to make it - but in short I mix egg yolks, sugar and vanilla and then stir warm (not boiling) milk into it over a bain marie. Not sure that’s the official method, but it worked, although some shop bought custard would be equally wonderful if you’re already going to the trouble of making pastry etc.
Bea's verdict - not ideal. 'Disgusting' was mentioned. She had a great time playing Mums and Dads with the sticks of rhubarb though. In actual fact, it was delicious - the crunch of the sweet pastry surrounding a neon-pink sharp sweet jammy middle, with a pool of custard on the side. Just wonderful, to brighten up a very damp day. Thank you Victor.