Rhubarb took England by storm in the 1800’s. The plant had been around a while, but it was the crowning of Queen Victoria that thrust it into the limelight. It is somewhat of an acquired taste, but mostly used in sweet applications because of its tart nature, like pies, tarts, jams, jellies and puddings.
If you’re not familiar with rhubarb, it is tempting to try the rhubarb raw (because it looks like celery). This I do not recommend, as I know first hand trying it as a child, and I’ve never done it since. Being a member of the buckwheat family, interestingly the leaves are said to be poisonous.
Makes you wonder how it ever became a food, but prepared with sugar and spices it is delicious.
Rhubarb is a seasonal plant and it is difficult to obtain in cooler climates, but do very well when grown in greenhouses, which is how we grew them in England - usually in mid- to late spring in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.
Rhubarb and custard is not only classic English dessert, but there was also a classic British cartoon short in the 1970’s named Roobarb and Custard. Funny rivalry between Roobarb the green dog and Custard the pink cat who lived next door, it was one of my favorites.
The English custard part of this dessert is my favorite. It was, and still is the ultimate comfort dessert that can be served with literally any dessert. Depending on the recipe, I make the custard in two consistencies. Runny, like in this rhubarb and custard, or thicker for tarts.
I’ve used this custard in a few of my desserts like sticky toffee pudding berry custard tart as well as being enjoyed warm or cold. I even eat it on its own. A nice bowl of piping hot custard in the cooler months to warm me up.
Check out more British recipes on Food Fanatic.
For the Rhubarb:
- 1 pound rhubarb, rinsed, dried and cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- grated nutmeg
For the Custard:
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Add the rhubarb to a shallow baking dish and toss with the sugar and nutmeg to coat. Arrange in a single layer.
- Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.
- While the rhubarb is cooking, in a medium saucepan, stir together the milk and sugar over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- While the milk is coming to a simmer, add the eggs to a mixing bowl and whisk in the cornstarch until smooth.
- Slowly whisk 1/3 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture until smooth. This will temper the eggs and stop them from curdling or cooking.
- Pour the egg and milk mix back into the pan with the milk and whisk over low heat until thickened.
- Once the custard has thickened, remove from the heat.
- Stir in the vanilla and mix until well incorporated.
- Divide the rhubarb between 4 shallow bowls. Pour over the custard and serve immediately.
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