Fried Apple Peels

Fried apple skins tossed with sugar and salt.The only time you should ever peel apples is when you are going to cook them.  Once cooked apple skins are hard, like photography film, if you can remember what that tastes like.

The only time I peel and cook apples is when I’m making apple pie or apple sauce, which is only a few times a year.  Most of the apples that pass through our home are crushed and pressed whole to make cider.  In this process the skins are broken up very fine so that they lend some body and tannin to the drink.

What I mean to say is I don’t actually peel very many apples.  But when I do peel those very few apples it bothers me to throw out the skins, because they are actually quite tasty.

So one day instead of dropping those peels in the trash can I dropped them in a pot of hot oil.

It’s difficult to get all the moisture out, to make them brittle and delicate and crisp, without the peels getting too dark and bitter.  The trick is to pull them from the oil when the bubbling has mostly subsided: they will still be limp, but once they cool they will be crispy.  Toss them with a pinch of salt and a three-finger pinch of sugar and they make a great garnish for any number of sweet or savoury dishes.

Below they are pictured with cornbread pudding, poached apples, and buttermilk ice cream, but they could just as easily be put on top of a bowl of squash and apple soup, or even a plate of grilled pork chops with apple sauce.

Cornbread pudding with poached apples, vanilla ice cream, and whisky caramel sauce

 

Addendum I

The photo above reminds me of a chef I once worked for.  One night we ran veal sweetbreads, floured and pan-fried, with chanterelle mushrooms and a reduction sauce.  We tasted the first plate, and I asked if maybe the dish needed another component for some colour, some visual contrast.  He said, “Five shades of brown is a beautiful thing.”

 

Addendum II

If kids love anything these days it’s foams and powders.  With this in mind one of the young cooks in our kitchen put some fistfuls of gangly apple skins into our dehydrator.  Two days later they were perfectly dry, like tumbleweed fragments.  Not quite as satisfying to eat on their own as the fried version, but a few brief moments in a blender and they made a surprisingly flavourful apple powder.  The cook then mixed this powder into a bowl of whipped butter to make “apple’d butter”.  A bit highfalutin for Button Soup, but I thought I’d mention it.

On Cooking Resinous Herbs

Last night I ate out at an Italian restaurant, one of them new-fangled Italian joints that have hardly any tomato sauce on the menu, and nary a checkered table-cloth or plastic grape vine in sight.  I had a bowl of squash tortelloni with brown butter and sage, a classic dish from the hallowed kitchens of Emilia-Romagna.  The sage was raw.

People usually freak out over raw chicken, not raw herbs, but eating those fuzzy, grey, acrid sage leaves was at least as unpleasant as contracting salmonella.

Chefs distinguish between fine herbs and resinous herbs.  Fine herbs are delicate and usually eaten raw.  Examples are basil, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Resinous herbs are more robust and are usually cooked.  Examples are rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, savoury, and most definitely sage.

We cook resinous herbs because they are chewy and harsh when raw.  If you would like to use a large piece of resinous herb like sage as a garnish, it absolutely needs to be cooked in oil or butter, after which it will be delicate, crisp, and vibrant in colour.

The herbs should be cooked rapidly and thoroughly.  The oil should jump to a lively sizzle as soon as the herbs are added.  Rapid cooking will preserve colour, and thorough cooking will eliminate all moisture and ensure the herbs are crisp and not at all chewy.  The frying is complete when the oil no longer bubbles vigorously around the herbs.

When you fry herbs you are not only crisping the herb, you are also flavouring the oil or butter.  Not to the extent of a concentrated herb oil, but enough to make a great sauce.  Squash tortelloni with brown butter and sage being a classic example.

Fried sage and rosemary

How to Cut Bell Peppers

For most applications the inside of a bell pepper, the pale membrane holding all the seeds, needs to be removed.  In my experience most home cooks do this by cutting the pepper in half, then scooping out the seeds with their fingers.  Frankly this is barbarous: it’s a slow, clumsy method that will always leave seeds behind.

Your knife is faster and more fastidious than your fingers.  Here’s a quick and thorough way to separate the core from the flesh.

Cut the top and bottom off the pepper.

topping_bell_pepper.JPG

 

Make a vertical cut through the wall of the pepper, then run your knife along the inside of the wall, like so:

seeding_bell_pepper.JPG

 

In this manner you can quickly remove the core of the pepper in one piece without having to fuss over each individual seed.  You also now have a perfect rectangle of crispy, juicy bell pepper that can be cut into uniform strips.

seeded_bell_pepper.JPG

 

sliced_bell_pepper.JPG

 

A visual summary of what we just did.

cutting_bell_pepper.JPG

 

The stem of the pepper can be composted.  The core has some flavour to it, and is most welcome in vegetable broths, especially those being used in corn chowder.

Herb Oil

Tarragon oil floating on pear and parsnip soupHerb oil is a powerful tool to have in your culinary belt.

It is a fantastic way to preserve a glut of herbs, especially a glut of herbs that are past their prime, for instance basil that is starting to get moist and speckled.  This less-than-attractive basil still has loads of flavour.  And parts of the herb that are usually discarded, say the thick, woody stem of a basil plant, are also full of flavour, and make great herb oil.  Herb oil keeps for weeks in the fridge and months in the freezer, and if made properly it is a stunning, concentrated, lustrous, fluid version of the plant it is made from.

My herb oil process is ripped directly from The French Laundry Cookbook.  There are a few pages devoted to herb oils in that influential tome.

You can make oil from almost any herb, but to me fine aromatic herbs (have I mentioned basil yet?) make the best oils.  Resinous herbs like thyme and rosemary will make flavourful oil, but not with the striking, vibrant green of their more delicate relatives.  I usually add a bit of parsley or carrot tops when making oils with resinous herbs; it will dilute the flavour slightly, but brighten the green colour.

Basil that has been blanched to improve the colour.Blanching.  We always blanche herbs before making oil.  Blanching means cooking quickly in boiling water.  In this case it is entirely aesthetic.  For a detailed description of how blanching improves the colour of green plants, please see this post.

While green vegetables like broccoli might be blanched for a few minutes, herbs only need about thirty seconds.

After blanching, the herbs should be dunked in ice water to arrest the cooking process.  After chilling, press the herbs with a dish towel to remove as much water as possible.

Blitzing.  Put the blanched herbs into a blender, and add just enough oil so that the blender can cycle the mixture and cut the herbs fine.  The higher your ratio of herbs to oil, the better the colour and flavour of your finished herb oil will be.

I use neutral canola oil, as I want the finished product to taste purely of the herb.  Depending on the final application, you can certainly use other, more flavourful oils like olive or flax.

Blitz the herbs for at least a few minutes.  The more you destroy the herbs cells walls, the better your extraction will be, and the more flavourful your oil.

Infusion Period.  If you’re hardcore you’ll leave your herb slurry in the fridge overnight to extract as much flavour from the herbs into the oil as possible.

Straining.  Pour the herb slurry into a chinois, a fine mesh strainer, and let it drip filter.  Don’t press the slurry to force the oil through, as this will let small particles through that will cloud your oil.

Storage.  Best stored in the fridge or even the freezer to preserve the fresh aroma and flavour of the herbs.  These oils can also be sensitive to light.  One afternoon I left a beautiful verdant basil oil on the kitchen counter in direct sunlight.  By dinner time it was brown.

Use.  I don’t know if serious chefs still do this, but I love floating oil on top of soups: pumpkinseed oil on squash soup, tarragon oil on parsnip pear soup (pictured above), basil oil on tomato soup.  It’s a great way to feature the oil, which can get lost in, say, a salad.

 

Chives

Chives emerging in early spring.Chives are prized for their pure allium flavour, blessedly devoid of the harsh burn of raw onion.

Here are some other awesome things about chives.

They are hearty perennials, which means they re-appear every spring and require very little attention.  In fact, they grow as weeds in many parts of Edmonton, including downtown parking lots.  I don’t mean that you should harvest them from downtown parking lots; I just offer that as evidence of their gumption.

They are one of the first edibles to appear in spring.  This year the spring thaw came early, and my chives were a few inches tall by the end of March.  It was seeing this enterprising green growth that inspired me to write this post.

Chive blossomsTheir flowers are both beautiful and delicious. Most flowers with that light purple colour, like lilacs and violas, have very little flavour and are nowhere near as versatile as chive blossoms.

My chives usually bloom in June.  The tiny, bell-shaped flowers are easy to harvest because they grow on round umbels.  Just pick the entire flower head from the stalk, pinch the hub where all the stems meet, and you can remove all the blossoms in one motion. They are much more robust than most culinary flowers and can be kept in the fridge for days.  The green stalks that hold the flower heads are woody and should be reserved for stock.

They can be super-fly elegant.  When cut properly chives are like happy green confetti.

How to cut chives for fine dining applications: a photo essay.

Harvest the chives by cutting the stalks close to the ground with sharp scissors.  Gently bundle the stalks together and lay them on a cutting board.

Whole chive stalksCut the bundle in half.

Chive stalks cut in half

Flip one half onto the other so that the cut ends are all on the same side.  Use the side of your knife to line up all of the cut ends.

Chive stalks with cut ends flush

Cut the chives so that their length exactly equals their diameter.

Chopped chives: happy green confetti

That’s just a fancy technique to keep in your back pocket.  Chives don’t need to be precious.

Chives are usually added to dishes fresh, shortly before consumption, as lengthy cooking destroys their delicate flavour.  They are extremely versatile.  I like them best on eggs, potatoes, and marinated vegetables.

A bowl of potato salad, with lots of chives

 

Chives are borderline invasive because after the flowers mature and dry they each release dozens of little black seeds.  These are edible, delicious, and easily harvested.  Simply pick the dried flowers and shake out the seeds into a jar or paper bag.  They have the same onion flavour as the stems, and a bit of a chewy texture.

Dried chive flower heads with seeds

Towards a Sour Cherry Tart

One of the greatest French bistro desserts is tarte au citron, or lemon tart: a rich, tangy curd set in a buttery French tart shell.  In furtherance to ending the tyranny of the lemon in our fair city, I’ve been experimenting with substituting citrus with our local sour cherries.

Background: Classic Fruit Curds

In pastry books there are usually two fruit curd recipes: one for lemon and lime, and another that can be used for almost any other kind of fruit.

Lemon has two traits that let it have its own style of curd: a yellow colour and a very intense acidity.  If you cook lemon juice with enough egg yolks and butter that it sets as a curd when cooled, not only will it have the bright yellow colour we associate with lemons, but the acidity of the lemon juice will cut through the fatty yolks and butter.  If you were to take a lemon curd recipe and substitute, say, blueberry juice for lemon, the fat in the curd would completely overwhelm the weak acidity of the berries, and it would make a tart with an off-putting grey-blue colour.  For this reason there is a second style of curd that is used for basically all types of fruit besides lemons and limes.  To keep a vibrant colour and acidity, the amount of butter and egg yolks must be reduced, which means that the curd must have an additional thickener, usually gelatin and egg whites.

Designing the Sour Cherry Tart

There are three things that I love about our local sour cherries:

  1. Acidity, obviously
  2. Intense, vibrant colours: eg. Evans cherries are the purest, happiest red, Carmine Jewel cherries are deep purple
  3. Distinctive aroma and flavour: eg. Evans cherries have a distinct aroma of almond extract.

An ideal cherry curd would preserve these three characteristics.

In my first experiment with sour cherry tarts I figured that the cherries were sour enough to stand up to the butter-and-yolk barrage of a classic lemon tart.  I simply substituted a strained Evans cherry purée into a class lemon curd recipe.

A slice of Evans cherry tartThe results were this:

  • The final curd was a drab, dusty, sad pink.  I had to add food colouring to make it presentable.
  • The fat of the curd completely blanketed the natural tartness of the cherries.  The final tart had no discernible acidity.
  • Similarly, the more delicate aromas of the cherry (almond) were clobbered and undetectable.  The tart did have a muted, generic cherry flavour.
  • The texture was okay.  Very buttery.  A bit stodgy.

For round two I used Carmine Jewel cherries, and instead of using only butter and egg yolks I used whole eggs and gelatin, with only a touch of butter.

Results:

  • The colour of the curd was fantastic.  Very close to that of the original cherry.  Honestly it reminded me of Beaujolais Nouveau: Purple with a fuchsia tint.
  • While the tart was not fully sour, it did have a pleasant, bright acidity.
  • Still none of the great aroma of the cherries

A slice of Carmine Jewel sour cherry tart

 

So at the very least I know what style of curd the tart needs to use.  One more iteration and I should have a working recipe.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Introduction to Soup

Split-pea soup with ham hock and crème fraîcheThere is something medieval about soup.  It is often made from bones.  It takes time to prepare, and to eat.  Soup is slow and simple and primordial and the opposite of modern.

I consider the promulgation of soup a personal mission.  Most of the formal meals that I prepare for friends or at work include a soup course.  Burns supper, for instance, begins with Scotch broth, Thanksgiving with squash soup, Viennese dinners with pancake soup.

Types of Soup

This is the kind of rant I usually relegate to the footnotes of a post, but I want to talk about soup classification.  In culinary school our standard text was called Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs (PCCC).  I learned a lot from this book, but some parts of it are seriously whack.  One of the most annoying things in PCCC is its classification of soups. There are, it says, four types of soup: clear, thick, international, and specialty.  Isn’t that ridiculous? Gumbo (a thick soup) was classified as an “international” soup, because it had a specific regional origin (Louisiana).  Gazpacho (a thick soup with a specific regional origin) was classified as a specialty soup, because it is served cold.  Ridiculous.  It’s like saying there are four types of cars: red, blue, fast, and Italian.

So, let me correct the matter and say that there are two types of soup: clear and thick.  Many of those soups have specific regional origins.  A few of them are served cold.  But they are all either clear or thick.

 

Clear Soups

Chicken noodle soup!Clear soups are made with transparent stock or broth, through which is distributed various garnishes such as vegetables, meat, and starches.  Chicken noodle soup is a clear soup.

The principle aesthetic consideration when preparing clear soups is the colour and clarity of the stock.  Adherence to these basic stock-making principles will result in a clear, flavourful stock with an appetizing colour.

Converting good stock into a soup can be as simple as adding some chopped vegetables and leftover meat.  I typically lightly sauté my vegetables in butter before adding the stock.  This is strictly for flavour.  Be sure to use a scant amount of fat to sauté your vegetables.  It’s nice to have a few spots of fat floating on top of a clear soup (the French call these spots “eyes”), but you don’t want so much that it forms a mat of grease.

If the clear soup will contain a starch such as pasta or rice, cook the starch in a separate pot of water.  These garnishes leach starch into the liquid as they cook, so they would cloud your soup.  Think about what water looks like after you’ve boiled pasta in it.

 

Thick Soups

When the liquid body of the soup is opaque and viscous enough to coat the diner’s spoon we describe the soup as thick.  Thick soups can get their viscosity in a number of ways.

Purée Soups.  Purée soups experienced a minor renaissance about ten years ago when a marketing genius started selling ready-made butternut squash soup.  Before that, most people in our part of the world only knew of stodgy “cream soups” like cream of mushroom and cream of potato.  I know that’s a pretty sweeping generalization, but this is a blog not an encyclopedia and I get to write things like that.

The most important thing to know about purée soups is that they must contain some sort of starch.  Broccoli, for instance, contains little starch, and will not make a cohesive, voluptuous purée without the help of a starchy companion like potato.

I would like to discourage three common practices when it comes to purée soups.

The first is the idea that you need stock to make soup.  This is a lie invented by classical French cuisine.  Stock is helpful (but not essential) in clear soups, but more or less useless for purée soups.  For starters, the full body of a rich stock is completely lost in the starchy mass of the purée.  Also I think the goal of a purée soup should be to taste perfectly like the ingredient it is made from.  If I make a potato soup, I don’t really want it to taste like chicken and mirepoix.  You can make very, very flavourful purée soups using only water.

The second is born from the idea that a soup or sauce has to simmer for several hours to develop flavour.  This isn’t true.  In fact, vegetables have the most flavour when they are just, just cooked.  After this the flavour wanes.  Vegetables should only be cooked to the point of complete tenderness before being puréed.

Finally is the idea that you must finish a purée soup with cream.  There is a time and a place for cream in soups, but it has a tendency to mute other flavours.  In some cases it also kills the colour.  I like to use cream with potato soups and mushroom soups.  I would never add cream to a squash soup, as it would turn the vibrant orange to a muted yellow, and muddle the natural, sweet flavour of the vegetable.

The way to really distinguish a purée soup is to make it as smooth and velvety as possible.  Nothing will get vegetable mash as smooth as an upright blender like a Vitamix.  Food processors, even powerful commercial varieties like the Robot Coup, and immersion blenders just don’t circulate like an upright blender.  Start blending the soup and forget about it for maybe five minutes, then run the soup through a chinois.

Purée soups should not be stodgy; a spoon dragged along the surface shouldn’t leave a trace.

 

Purée Soup Case Study: Squash and Apple Soup

Pumpkin soup with cream and Styrian pumpkinseed oil

This is a magic soup of subtle architecture that perfectly bridges savoury, sweet, and tart.

Sautée sliced onions and garlic in butter until the onions are becoming translucent.  Add cubed squash and apple and sauté briefly.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer.  As soon as the squash is tender, transfer the soup to a blender.

Season.  Don’t feel shy about adding a bit of sugar to reinforce the natural sweetness of the squash.

Finish with pumpkinseed oil.  Not to knock North American producers, but nothing compares to the Styrian variety.  I’ve written about it before, but it has a deep forest green colour and a knockout aroma of roasted nuts.  The best that I have had in North America was imported by a company from Montreal called Green Gold.  Not sure if it will be available in stores in Edmonton.

Other appropriate garnishes: heavy cream, roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roux-Thickened Soups.  Roux is the traditional way to thicken several classic soups, including chowder and gumbo, but it has fallen from favour in recent decades.  In fact, some of the chefs I have worked for have explicitly banned roux from their kitchens.  There are a few reasons for this.  First is the ever increasing phenomenon of gluten sensitivity.  More generally, roux is seen as stodgy.

I love roux.  I always have butter and flour in my kitchen.  It tastes good.  I use it in mac and cheese and corn chowder and even tourtière.

If for some reason you can’t use a roux in a chowder, you can make the soup as if it were a clear soup, then separate a portion, puré it, and mix it back with the rest of the soup.

A Quick Note on Cold Soups before we go

I think the two most common cold soups are tomato (“gazpacho”) and cucumber.  Many have tried these and decided they’re gross and then sworn off cold soup for the rest of their lives.  A better gateway into cold soups is the starchy varieties like potato and leek (“Vichysoisse”) and those containing fruit (the squash and apple soup described above).

My favourite cold soup is parsnip and pear:Bowl of parsnip and pear soup, garnished with toasted hazelnuts and chervil

 

In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that soup is the very essence of frugality and comfort.  Let it be a part of your life.

Roast Pumpkin Seeds

A lil' bowl of roasted pumpkin seedsRoast pumpkinseeds are a very rustic North American snack.  While pumpkin seeds are relished in several far flung parts of the world, including central America (pepitas) and Austria (kurbiskern), I think ours is the only civilization that eats pumpkinseeds in their shell.  Pumpkinseed shells are woody.  Frankly they are just barely edible, and certainly not digestible.

But I do like them.  Lengthy chewing promotes contemplation.  Rumination, even.

And though you can eat pumpkins throughout the fall and winter and into early spring, growing up I only ever ate roast pumpkin seeds at Hallowe’en.

A nifty trick for separating the seeds from the stringy pumpkin guts: throw the whole mess in a large pot of water.  If you rub the mass between your hands, you loose the pumpkin flesh from the seeds, which float to the top and can be easily skimmed off.  Dry them on a bake sheet lined with paper towel overnight.

Toss with oil.  Over the years I’ve flipped and flopped between oven-baking and pan-frying.  Certainly the oven is more gentle: it takes longer, but browns the seeds more evenly.  Pan-frying is more aggressive, and quick.  Right now I’m leaning towards pan-frying.

Traditionally salt and sugar and nothing else.  Paprika might be good, too.

Happy Hallowe’en.

On the Flavour of Rhubarb

One day I was bored so I made this drawing:

Rhubarb flavour webIt contains some thoughts on the flavour of rhubarb, with the intent of deepening our appreciation of the plant, and broadening its culinary application.

Rhubarb is almost always cooked with a sweetener to balance the sharp acidity of the plant.  Brown sugar deserves special mention.  Honey also works well, which has me wondering if Sauternes would pair well with a rhubarb dish.

Most forms of dairy, whether sweet or cultured, pair well with rhubarb.  Rich dairy tempers the acidity of rhubarb.  Ice cream is especially good at this.  Salty dairy like aged cheddar can be a good counterpoint to rhubarb’s bright acidity.

Eggs work surprisingly well with rhubarb.  Picture a poached egg served on a bed of dandelion greens dressed with rhubarb vinaigrette.  Once again we have a rich, fatty substance (the egg yolk) tempering the acidity.  The subtle sulfur taste of eggs matches rhubarb somehow, too.

Where eggs and dairy meet there is custard.  Custard is a near perfect partner for rhubarb, especially when made with lots of butter and flavoured with vanilla.

We’ve all had rhubarb crumble, which suggests that rhubarb goes well with grains like wheat and oats.  I often add cold-pressed canola to my crumbles to reinforce the natural grassy taste of the oats.  The next time you have a chance to eat raw rhubarb, see if you can pick up its distinctive vegetal flavour.  This “green” component completely dissipates with cooking, but I imagine there are ways to bring it back.  Picture steaming a ham with generous fistfuls of clover and alfalfa, then eating the meat with rhubarb jam.

Nuts, another common ingredient in crumbles, go well with rhubarb.  Spices, too.  A piece of cinnamon is most welcome in stewed rhubarb.  My grandma’s rhubarb relish was infused with cinnamon, clove, allspice, and black pepper.  Ginger is a classical partner for rhubarb in the United Kingdom, usually in the form of rhubarb ginger jelly.  And we’ve already mentioned vanilla, especially in custards and creams.

I don’t often cook rhubarb with herbs, but I bet there are some interesting combinations.  The anise-type herbs like tarragon and chervil come to mind (think: rhubarb tarragon sorbet).  Also I’d bet that the evergreen flavours of juniper, rosemary, spruce tips, and labrador tea could also work, especially in cocktails (NB Three Boars, Woodwork, et al).

Citrus is a friend to rhubarb, but rhubarb is so sour that it doesn’t need the juice of lemons or limes: zest is best. I always smell candied lemon or lemon balm in muscat wines like Moscato d’Asti.  I bet there’s a good pairing with rhubarb to be had.

Of course rhubarb is often used in conjunction with other fruit.  The secondary fruit tempers the acidity of the rhubarb, and the rhubarb adds punch and volume.  I don’t typically use rhubarb with fruit that is already tart, like raspberry.  I prefer low-acid fruit with mellow flavours.  Ambrosia apples with their honey aroma come to mind.  I’ve written about the felicitous connection between saskatoons and rhubarb here.

I often think of allium as a bridge between sweet and savoury.  Cooked onions and garlic are already a pleasing balance of the two, so they can easily be used to link the flavours of, say, fruit and meat.

Pork and rhubarb was a common pairing when my father was little.  Cured meat like bacon and ham work the same magic as the aged cheddar mentioned above.  Ducks and game birds like pheasant and grouse are a good fit, too.

Raw allium can be nice in moderation.  Something like chive blossom works better than, say, red onion. The very bottom left corner of the flavour web may seem weird.  I’ve written this before, but to me wild rice smells almost identical to rooibos tea.  I know rhubarb goes well with tea (see rhubarb iced tea), and so I’m pretty sure rhubarb would go well with wild rice.

Some of the liquor pairings are no-brainers.  I’ve already posited that rhubarb goes well with evergreen flavours, so gin should work.  Rhubarb and brown sugar and vanilla are all friends, so oak-aged spirits like fine rum and brandy and bourbon also fit.  If rhubarb goes well with the smoky flavour of ham and bacon,  I wonder if there is a good smoky scotch pairing out there (NB Three Boars, Woodwork, et al).

In Italy rhubarb is used to make bitter aperitifs like Zucca and Aperol.

Speaking of drinks, Weissbier popped into my head as a good match for rhubarb because of its clove and citrus aromas.  Maybe that’s what to drink with the dandelion, poached egg, rhubarb dish I mentioned above.

I’m pretty confident in the strength of the rhubarb-floral connection.  In Austria I ate an elderberry flower fritter dusted with sugar and dipped in rhubarb compote.  I bet some fancy desserts could be concocted with rhubarb and rose water, or rhubarb and candied lilac.  To me this suggests that rhubarb might pair well with floral wines like Gewurztraminer.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Additions?

Rhubarb Iced Tea

The Tyranny of the Lemon

I like lemons.  Tarte au citron and lemon meringue pie are two of my favourite desserts.  A quick squeeze of lemon adds friendly punch to everything from salads to roasted chickens and pots of tea.

However.

To me lemons are the epitome of our thoughtless dependence not just on imported ingredients, but imported cuisine.  Every week of the year the happy yellow fruits are shipped by the ton into our city to spread the insidious influence of Mediterranean and Californian food.

What is frustrating about our lemon dependence is that our region and its local plants do “sour” very well.  We are awash with tart, flavourful ingredients like apples, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, rhubarb, and all the cordials, wines, and vinegars that can be made therefrom.  There is a time and place for lemons.  In Edmonton, those times are few and far between.

A glass of rhubarb iced teaA Simple Start to Overthrowing the Lemon

Lemons hold a particularly firm grasp on our drinking habits.  I’m thinking especially of classic cocktails, lemonade, and iced tea.  A tart syrup made from any of the above-mentioned local ingredients would be most welcome in iced tea in lieu of lemon.  Rhubarb, though, is my favourite.  It is tart, flavourful, and adds a pleasant rosy blush to the drink.

Rhubarb Iced Tea
a big barbecue batch

Ingredients

  • 5 L water
  • 34 g black tea bags (about 10 bags)
  • 1 kg fresh rhubarb, chopped (rhubarb varies widely in acidity, so this quantity will have to be adjusted according to your plant and palate)
  • 400 g white sugar (this quantity will also have to be adjusted so that the sweetness properly balances the acidity of the rhubarb)

Procedure

  1. Bring water to a boil.  Add tea bags, reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer.  Maintain simmer for 4 minutes.  Remove tea bags.
  2. Add rhubarb and sugar.  Stir to dissolve sugar, then cover the pot and let stand until cooled to room temperature, a couple hours.
  3. Strain out the rhubarb.  Chill the iced tea overnight in the fridge before serving.