Summertime & The Living is Easy
Homemade ice cream is something of a delight, but who honestly has a) the time, b) the freezer space for ice cream maker bowls and c) both at the same time? Not me, that’s for sure and more to the point, even if I did have the luxury of those things, I’m far too much of an impromptu cook to plan ahead the night before to put the stuff in the freezer ready for the following day.
Of course, I may well change my opinions if I were lucky enough to have a free standing ice cream maker; and of course in turn my family and friends would be lucky too – getting to sample all the delightful flavours and styles that could be developed.
In the meantime, there is (drum roll please) … No Churn Ice Cream. Yes, believe your eyes, you can have luscious ice cream minus the churning in minutes. Well, it’s made in minutes, you do unfortunately have to be patient and wait for the freezer to do its work. Intensely creamy ice cream with minimal effort.
In the 18th century cream, milk, and egg yolks began to feature in the recipes of previously dairy-free flavoured ices, resulting in ice cream in the modern sense of the word. The 1751 edition of The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse features a recipe for raspberry cream ice. 1768 saw the publication of L’Art de Bien Faire les Glaces d’Office by M. Emy, a cookbook devoted entirely to recipes for flavoured ices and ice cream.
This ice cream however, is not custard based which makes it rather perfect for preparing on warm, lazy summer days. Lazy summer days which we see precious few of here in the UK; but as I write, sat in the garden, the sun beats down and all is well.
I had contemplated making vanilla ice cream to serve alongside a hot rhubarb crumble, but then I had the notion of combining ice cream & crumble and making Rhubarb Crumble Ice Cream. Sure enough it was a fabulous idea, tart and refreshing, so much better than a hot dessert in this warm summer weather.
Don’t mistake rhubarb for a fruit; although it is often cooked to eat as a dessert and commonly combined with other sweet fruits, rhubarb is technically a vegetable, it’s a member of the polygonaceae family and related to sorrel.
Rhubarb is an excellent crop to grow in Britain, enjoying cool climates and suffering very few pests. A very large percentage of rhubarb is grown in the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle. Rhubarb flourishes in Yorkshire’s cold, damp soils. In the 1800s when the cultivation method was invented coal for the sheds was provided by nearby coal mines and fertiliser from the by-products of the wool industry. New plants grow for two years without harvest, storing energy from the sun in their roots as carbohydrate, like the human body stores fat. Frost causes plants to hibernate and transform the stored carbohydrate into glucose, crucial for forced rhubarb’s bittersweet flavour.
It is the extreme tartness of the rhubarb that links it so much with its health properties. In general, fruits and vegetables with tart or sour flavours tend to be effective in aiding digestion and cleansing. Rhubarb is no exception.
It is for this reason that rhubarb has a long history of being used strictly as medicine. Made into tinctures, syrups, and poultices, the plant had been used around the world in the treatment of constipation, diarrhea, gastro-intestinal disorders, menstrual disorders, sores, and ulcers for thousands of years. You may be shocked to learn that in the 5,000 years rhubarb has been cultivated, it wasn’t until the 18th century that it was grown for culinary purposes! Until that point, rhubarb was grown in Asia and shipped all over the world as medicine. Due to the risks and expenses of land transport, rhubarb was incredibly expensive, even more so than saffron.
In fact rhubarb is now classified as a superfood for its ratio of health benefits to calories – only 7 calories per 100 grams. Savvy slimmers have also realised it actually speeds up the metabolism. It is also, surprisingly enough, high in calcium.
Cooking rhubarb in a saucepan invariably leads to it becomingly stringy and somewhat overcooked no matter how hard you try. The easier way is to bake it in the oven at a relatively low temperature – it cooks through well and yet stays tender and keeps hold of the shape. If you are making this after another oven activity such as the Sunday roast you can just pop this in the turned off oven whilst you eat your meal and by the time you’ve cleared the dinner plates and got out the pudding dishes the rhubarb will be cooked to perfection. Simple as.
In an attempt to keep a healthy-ish vibe going, although, I’m not sure it’s ever possible where ice cream is concerned, I used spelt flour and oats to make the crumble. I make much more crumble than is actually needed for the ice cream, to use on all kinds of fruity/creamy puddings and store it in an airtight container – it keeps for a couple of weeks, not that it ever lasts that long here.
The resulting ice cream is ultra creamy, soft and airy, very much like a cross between the ‘Mr Whippy’ style ice creams of my childhood and the delightful Italian gelatos. The flavour is fantastic, slightly tart, making it very refreshing despite the creaminess and the nuggets of crumble give great texture. Crumble ice creams will be a regular feature here from now on.
If you’re wanting to keep the ice cream in the freezer longer than 24 hours, I’d recommend you add a splash of alcohol – orange liqueur would work well here, or homemade vanilla extract (basically vanilla pods steeped in vodka), as it helps keep the ice cream soft and not icy.
Go on give it a whirl.
- 500g rhubarb
- 100g caster sugar
- 200g white spelt flour
- 150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 100g soft brown sugar
- 100g porridge oats
- 300ml double cream
- 175g condensed milk
- Preheat the oven to 160C or the equivalent.
- Trim the leaves from the rhubarb and wash the stems, then dry them and cut into short lengths. Arrange in a roasting tin just big enough to take them in a single layer. Dredge with the sugar and cover with a lid or foil.
- Bake for fifteen minutes and remove from the oven. (This timing is for rhubarb up to broom handle thick. Very thick stems may need another five or ten minutes). The rhubarb will still be slightly “al dente” but awash with pink syrup.
- Leave until cool, still covered, by which time the rhubarb will be perfectly soft.
- Turn the temperature of the oven up to 180c.
- Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub together with your fingertips until you have a crumbly dough.
- Squeeze the mixture in your hand to form clumps, the crumble these onto a large baking tray and spread out evenly.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container.
- Whisk the cream and condensed milk together until soft peaks form
- Fold through the rhubarb (use a slotted spoon and reserve the syrup) and a couple of handfuls of crumble mix, and then fill 2 x 500ml containers, scatter with a little more crumble, and freeze for 6 hours or overnight (if you can wait that long).
- Serve straight from the freezer, drizzled with the reserved syrup (optional).
- The resulting colour of your ice cream will vary dependent upon the rhubarb - I've made it where the ice cream has been a vivid pink and where it has been a creamy colour.
- An alternative would be to blitz the rhubarb in the food processor and swirl it through the ice cream to give a rhubarb ripple effect.