Thanks to the increasingly vague lockdown/isolation rules I've finally seen D (for the first time since the 14th of March) - we went for a walk in the park, no hugging, but I gave him his birthday kep and he gave me some rhubarb.
It's been one of the things I've really missed through lockdown, I don't know why* this particularly - I don't generally eat a lot of it, but nowhere near me has sold it. The modest handful of sticks I got where a bit on the dry side so there was no time to waste in cooking them so I headed straight for Mary Prior's 'Rhubarbaria' book.
Mary Prior was a formidable historian who I vaguely remember meeting once or twice as her daughter was a close neighbour in Shetland. Ann died, much to young from cancer, a few years ago. She was a birder, writer, traveller, and fabulous cook. She contributed quite a few recipes to this book, opening it is like meeting an old friend albeit in far to fleeting way.
After a bit of searching I settled on the Russian Rhubarb cake that Mary had lifted from George and Cecilia Scurfield's 'Home-made Cakes and Biscuits' from 1963. They sound like a remarkable couple. There's also an old fashioned lack of precision about this recipe, and Mary suggest adding orange to it, so I felt entirely at liberty to make my own changes to it as well.
This started with halving the quantities, the original cake would have been huge and was meant to be cooked in a large baking tray. My smaller version went into an 8 inch round tin which seems about right. The oven temperature 200C, 400F, or Gas 6, seemed suspiciously high and the cooking time of 45 minutes quite long - in my fan oven it cooked well at 170c for 30 minutes, but both the quantity and the juiciness of the rhubarb would probably change this.
I also mixed the flour with semolina to give a little bit more texture to the crumb, and to soak up some of the liquid I might normally expect from rhubarb. I don't know if there's anything specifically Russian about this cake, but it's easy to throw together, has a pleasing tartness to it, and still slightly warm with a bit of cream is positively smart.
Line your cake tin and turn the oven on, then you want 1 ounce of semolina and 5 ounces of self raising flour (having not used self raising flour for a long time I'm really enjoying having it back in my kitchen), 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, 4.5 ounces of castor sugar, 4.5 ounces of softened butter, 2 eggs, and the grated rind of an orange. Put all of these in a bowl and beat for a couple of minutes. Spread the mix into the cake tin.
Mary says use 9 sticks of rhubarb, enough for 3 cups, for her large version, which is fine if you're growing the stuff, unhelpful for a shopping list. I had about 4 skinny sticks which filled a cup with some left over. Stupidly I forgot to weigh it, but given it's a fairly rustic cake a little more or less isn't going to matter very much.
Having eyed up the available rhubarb, chop into smallish slices, top the cake taking care to make sure that not to much of it ends up in the middle, and then sprinkle generously with demerara sugar. Cook it, and then allow to cool before eating.
Rhubarbaria is available from Prospect Books and other retailers, it's well worth having if you like rhubarb.
*It is possible that it's because I started a Shetland Soap Company Rhubarb and Rose scented soap, called Havera, which actually smells like rhubarb and roses. With all the hand washing it's maybe not surprising I keep thinking of rhubarb.