What is it with the verb ‘to sit’ that confuses our nation of English speakers? Putting aside how some people talk and write in text speak nowadays, the misuse of our common language really gets my blood pressure rising. I give you an example….a recent telephone message from a senior colleague. “Hi Alison, I’m sat with Pam and we were wondering…”. I’m sat? – NO. I’m sitting surely. I am sitting with Pam….
A rather defensive team member from North Wales, who is also afflicted by this unspeakable habit, told me that she believes it is a Welsh or a Northern thing, but it’s not – the colleague who sat with Pam, is from Woking. In the days of Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2 (whoops, just lost four of my five readers) he would make a big deal about conjugation of verbs, specifically ‘to sit’ – he made it into something hugely funny, but it is so prevalent now that it has become an equally huge irritation to me, to the extent that I correct people mid sentence – how rude am I?
Now, this whole subject has come about because, whilst in a hotel restaurant ‘up north’ last week, I was approached by a waiter with my starter (a slab of smooth chicken liver pate, clearly just out of its vacuum pack on a pretentiously slim and very sharp piece of slate, far too small for its load). But I digress – he placed this in front of me and repeated what I had already heard him say in a broad Newcastle accent to my dining neighbours, “Here you go, hope you enjoy…” turned and walked away. Enjoy..? What does he want me to enjoy? The starter, the absent glass of wine or the shower gel in my room? I have no idea. If he was hoping I enjoyed my starter, I have to say I did. I was very hungry after all and his comment helped me decide what to get off my chest in Truly Scrumptious this month.
So to match my sharp temper, sweetened only by love and chocolate, preferably together, I am contributing to this month’s recipe a notoriously sharp fruit, Spring Rhubarb with something to soften and sweeten its acidity, Donhead honey.
I think of rhubarb as British, not least because the best rhubarb comes, indisputably, from Yorkshire (ah, a tenuous link with my visit north) from an area between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford known as the ‘rhubarb triangle’. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall informs me on his (beautifully written) blog that a few years ago, Yorkshire rhubarb was awarded PDO (protected designation of origin) status.
After the two or three years needed for the crowns to develop, they are transferred to pitch black forcing sheds, where the pale pink shoots grow rapidly in their desperate search for light. They are harvested by candlelight. The season lasts until April, and then it is only a short wait for the thicker, greener, outdoor crop. Mine is shooting already under buckets and will be ready by April for sure. This main crop rhubarb will possibly need a sprinkle more sugar than the more delicate, floral early pink crop. A blob of creamy yoghurt and a ribbon of honey are great companions of rhubarb.
So, with charming Geordie waiters aside (and forgiven), I know you will enjoy…
Rhubarb Cake with crème fraîche and Donhead honey
Approx. £2.90 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores
226g self raising flour
a pinch of salt
110g unsalted butter
340g rhubarb – thin stalks preferably (the darker the better)
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs – slightly beaten
1 tbsp demerara sugar
150ml crème fraîche
1 star anise – ground to a fine powder (delicious but optional)
2tsp Donhead honey (optional – but crème fraîche will need sweetening).
Preheat the Oven to 180°C, Gas mark 4, AGA rack on floor of top oven with cooling shelf above
1. Grease, line and then grease again, a 1lb (equivalent) loaf or cake tin
2. Chop the rhubarb into slices, about 10–15 mm wide
3. In a large bowl, add the salt and the flour, then rub the cold butter into the flour in the usual way to resemble fine breadcrumbs
4. Mix in the caster sugar, chopped raw rhubarb, then finally the beaten eggs. Mix well.
5. The mixture will be fairly dry and heavy for a cake mixture but trust me, it’s okay.
6. Put the mixture into the tin, level it out, and then sprinkle the top with the demerara sugar.
7. Bake in the oven for about 45–50 minutes until it looks done (i.e. light brown and cake coloured)
8. To test for ‘doneness’, press the top lightly with your finger and if it springs back, it’s done, or test with a skewer.
9. If the top gets brown before the cake is cooked through, cover the top loosely with foil to stop it from burning
10. Leave the cake in the tin for 15–30 minutes to firm up before turning it out carefully onto a wire cooling rack (it may be a little fragile and wobbly, but that’s okay).
11. Add the honey and crushed star anise (optional) to the crème fraîche and serve with the warm cake as a pudding or cold with a cup of tea!
A truly, truly scrumptious moist and divine cake for this spring
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.