Pucker up!

Elliott Shaffner, food writer and Little House staff member wrote this gorgeous piece on rhubarb, with  photos (and ice cream) with her partner Fred.  As luck would have it, local rhubarb is in stock now!

Rhubarb Ice Cream

I've been thinking about the handful of fruits and vegetables that we use in cooking but would never just pop into our mouths, fresh. I mean to say, foods that require a significant transformation for them to be edible, like olives, rhubarb and cranberries. Olives have to be fermented or cured, rhubarb has toxic leaves and is almost always macerated then baked. And cranberries, have you ever tried to just eat a cranberry? Not pleasant. And acorns. It has never even occurred to me to eat an acorn. Yet, it is a nut. Squirrels eat acorns. And throughout history acorns have been used, ground up to make grain flours and even used as a coffee substitute for soldiers in both the Civil War and World War II.

It fascinates me to no end to think of the trajectory of how we, the people, figured out how to make these things (and all things) edible. 'Well, Hyram there died when he ate that acorn. So let's try and soak it in another poisonous substance, LYE, and give it another go. Yes? Rodney's okay? Alright, good to hear because this would make a lovely flour with which to create a noodle.'

Rhubarb. It comes into season in the spring and everyone gets all aflutter about it. I'd say about ninety percent of the time you'll find rhubarb paired with strawberries and baked into a pie or a crumble. It's bright, tart and guaranteed to make you pucker up.

Fred is the ice cream man, and everyone who has eaten his ice cream will agree. He has a way. And when I say he has a way, I mean to say he has a French (or sometimes Italian) way. Fred is not afraid of the egg yolk. And considering eggs are so the new bacon, which is to say, wicked hip, why should he be? I guess my Fred is wicked hip.

To elaborate, French ice cream is made with egg yolks, so it's thick and custardy. Both French and Italian ice creams are made this way, while the French use a bit more cream to milk and Italy more milk to cream. Whereas American ice cream (also called Philadelphia-style) is made with sugar, milk and cream. No eggs. European ice cream is richer, silkier and it doesn't develop nearly as many ice crystals as its lighter cousin. And when I say cousin, I mean to say the kind of cousins that don't much care for one another. The French hate American ice cream.

Fred's ice cream is no joke – sweet, decadent, thick and velvety. And what better an element to cut that sweetness than the tartness of rhubarb? In this recipe, the rhubarb, which had been cooked down to almost a jam with sugar and orange juice prior to baking, was mellow and gently sweet, but maintained it's pert zing, adding an ideal offset to the sweet, creamy ice cream.

Rhubarb swirl ice cream

Rhubarb-Swirl Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ quarts

2 1/2 cups half and half
2 cups whole milk
1 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
Dash of sea salt
3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Rhubarb Swirl
4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine half and half, whole milk, heavy cream, 1 cup of sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Give it a little taste to make sure you have enough salt.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Over medium-high heat, heat milk mixture until sugar dissolves and begins to simmer. Slowly pour about one cup of the simmering milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs (a.k.a. cook the eggs without scrambling them). Add egg mixture to sauce pan, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Turn heat off. Add vanilla extract.

Pour mixture in a large bowl over a fine mesh sieve to catch any clumps. Cover and place in fridge to cool, about 3 hours. To speed up the cooling process, place bowl in an ice bath in the fridge, or place in the freezer sans ice bath.

Meanwhile, place rhubarb, sugar, and orange juice in a sauce pan. Cover and cook over medium heat until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Puree mixture in food processor until smooth. Pour mixture in a large bowl over a fine mesh sieve to catch any egg clumps. Once ice cream mixture is cold, make according to your machine’s instructions. Add rhubarb in at the end, swirling through the ice cream (here's what I did). Place in freezer again if ice cream is too soft.