We found ourselves in the garden centre again the other day. A weekday and all. We passed through aisles of green and shelves trailing leaves and branches like lazy octopi.
I bought a tarragon plant and a gooseberry bush, spurred on by the constant disappointment on the supermarkets shelves. I’ll leave the tarragon a while to get established, unlike the parsley which I have had to plant a few extra pots of. We seem to use a lot in this house and the poor little things can’t keep up.
As for the gooseberries, those furry little fruits that seemed to be a permanent fixture of my late childhood summers, I shall, with hope and care, now have my own supply. And each year, when the season dawns, I’ll be able to have the simple joy of having grown my own sour little bombs of flavour. They are so good turned into a sauce with mackerel.
It dawned on me, as I eyed the cakes and considered a nice sit down and a cup of tea, that perhaps I’m not freelance, I’m retired. It’ll be a tartan shopping trolley in the supermarket, grey slip-ons and annoying everyone by travelling to leisure activities at peak time on the commuter trains next.
Or not. Life, after all, is about balance. And the joys of the garden, especially this time of year, when every day brings a surprising new burst of colour somewhere, have given me a new pastime. One that appeals to my inate talent of ‘pottering’ about. A place of calm in the morning before a busy day, or a place of contemplation and unwinding after one, as you walk around with a drink in one hand and the hose in the other. However, I can see the amount of greenfly attacking the rosebuds may lead to swearing in a quiet corner, out of earshot of the children.
And talking of Ying and yang, there is the heavenly balance when startlingly sour meets incredibly sweet: a sweet spot. Just the hint of something on the edge of tartness, almost mouth puckering but not quite. Rhubarb is the king of this. Perhaps it’s just me, but that feeling of being just on the edge, when chillies in a curry are almost unbearable, when bitterness is almost too much in a sour cherry tangfastic, when lemon juice or vinegar just hits the acidic edge in a vinaigrette is where the flavour is at its best. It’s almost thrilling to be there.
But this is only a drink, so we’ll stop with all that. There comes a point in life when you have bought too much rhubarb and you have to hold back. And you can’t — although Noah would vehemently oppose this heretical idea — have crumble every day. So to use the remaining spears, I’ve made this rhubarbade. It’s delicious and makes a refreshing change from the lime and mint I love, or the cider vinegar and honey tonic I make. This vivid pink rhubarb at the height of its season is a real highlight of the year so get it while you can, and get it into as much as you can.
50g maple syrup
50g grated ginger (this helps bring out the flavour of the rhubarb, not that it needs help)
1tsp citric acid
Juice of a lemon
Bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan and reduce to a simmer for about ten minutes. Leave to cool completely then strain into a bottle and chill.
Dilute with sparkling water to serve, adding a sprig or two of mint if you like.