Pink and purple!

There are certain hazards to being a cookery writer.   Complete strangers, for example, have a fondness for telling me in great detail the best ever recipe for …   I know it’s kindly meant, but it’s a bit like discussing your tax return with an accountant at a party.   Friends, meanwhile, love setting culinary challenges, especially ones that involve using up excess pink and purple garden produce.


Apparently, too much rhubarb, beetroot, damsons or red cabbage can result in family rebellion. The repeated appearance of red cabbage for supper, for example, has a similar effect on the recipients to that experienced by Mr Pooter when the dread blanc-mange kept appearing at his table in The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (1892):  


November 18.   I told Sarah not to bring up the blanc-mange again for breakfast.   It seems to have been placed on our table at every meal since Wednesday …


In spite of my instructions, that blanc-mange was brought up again for supper.   To make matters worse, there had been an attempt to disguise, it, by placing it in a glass dish with jam around it.   Carrie asked Lupin if he would have some, and he replied: ‘No second-hand goods for me, thank you.’   I told Carrie, when we were alone, if that blanc-mange were placed on the table again I should walk out of the house.


In a bid to meet my friends’ culinary challenges and ensure familial peace across the land, here are some suggestions, along with a few of my favourite recipes (see Lucky dip index) for rhubarb, beetroot, damsons and red cabbage.


Garden rhubarb can run rampant, so try to pick slender, tender stems. Very large stems have a coarse texture and, if not being sieved, will need to be peeled. Ideally use them in pureed or strained dishes such as rhubarb mousse, ice cream, jelly, sorbet and cordial.  


To prepare: discard the leaves, they’re poisonous, and slice off the brownish cut ends.   Wash thoroughly and cut into even-sized chunks, so that they cook evenly. Those in need of disguising their rhubarb could try mixing it with fresh raspberries, strawberries or red currants and baking it in cobblers, crumbles, pies and almond sponges. Or, they could subvert it further by turning it into jelly, sorbet, ice cream, fool, mousse or syrup, flavoured with elderflower, lavender or distilled rose water.  



See Lucky dip index for:   rhubarb rose water cordial; rhubarb meringue pie.


Beetroot is best eaten when small and tender and is harvested from mid May to the end of October.   Red, yellow, white or pink and white striped Chiogga beetroot are all cooked in the same way and taste very similar.   Young beetroot leaves can be cooked in the same way as spinach.  


To prepare: wash under cold running water and don’t trim or peel, or they will bleed too much and lose their flavour.   You can either boil or bake them.   Beetroot the size of a large egg will take about 45 minutes to bake at 170°C/gas 3 (loosely wrapped in foil) and 30 minutes to boil if added to boiling water.   Test if they are cooked by rubbing their skin with your thumb; if it peels easily they’re cooked.


Beetroot taste wonderful in different types of salads.   Here are some ingredients to play with: oranges, nut oils, honey, dill, apples, walnuts, celery, bitter lettuces, chicory, horseradish, pickled cucumbers, chives, shallots, soft cheeses, Feta, rye breads, cold meats, smoked fish, sour cream, all manner of vinegars, lime and lemon.   Some of these flavourings also taste good with hot beetroot, as does roast meats and gravy.


See Lucky dip index for: goat’s cheese, beetroot and samphire salad; beetroot crisps.


Damsons are in season in the last three weeks of September. It’s worth turning your damsons into puree or juice, which can be frozen and used later.   The puree can be turned into damson cheese, fool, ice cream or mousse.   The juice can be transformed into a pudding jelly, preserve jelly or syrup.   One kilo of fresh damsons will yield 780ml puree if cooked with no water or 400ml if tipped into a jelly bag instead.   I’m presuming that everyone will have considered making damson gin.


See Lucky dip index for: damson cheese, damson ice cream.


Red cabbages are planted out in their winter beds in July and August, so it will be some months yet before they’ll start to overwhelm gardener cooks.   They keep exceptionally well, even in the bottom of the fridge.  


To prepare:   remove their outer leaves, quarter and core, then cut according to your needs.   Traditionally they’re cooked with acidic fruit such as apples to help preserve their purple colour, but they’re also good in sweet sour style of salads, such as apple, dried cranberry and walnut oil.   I’ve even come across red cabbage salads that are dressed in black treacle and vinegar.   Apparently they originate from Yorkshire.


See Lucky dip index for: oriental coleslaw, red cabbage with cassis 

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