I came up with this recipe few years ago. I’d been experimenting with rhubarb, mainly because I had a glut of it on my allotment, and also to try and get beyond endless rhubarb crumble and custard, so I came up with a tasty and healthy breakfast, which I now eat regularly, especially in winter.
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This is a really quick and easy recipe, and adds only a few minutes to your porridge making, but it makes such a difference, a wonderful fresh taste made by combining just a handful of healthy ingredients. I sounded like an advert then.
Some people eat porridge all the time but personally I like porridge in winter, and on cold or wet mornings, so I don’t make much use of porridge during summer, when it is available in quantity. Instead I keep my rhubarb in check by digging up a root in winter and ‘forcing’ the rhubarb through the winter months specifically so that I can have ‘tusky’ porridge on winter mornings. ‘Forcing’ is a technique by which a plant, which is dormant during winter, is tricked into thinking it is summer. Forced rhubarb is readily available for sale during winter but I grow it myself in a barrel in the greenhouse.
But even if you eat tusky porridge during the summer it is still a great way to keep your unruly rhubarb in check.
This is my theory: If you are cooking for yourself you will probably use half a big stick of rhubarb per day for tusky porridge, which is three big sticks per week, (assuming you have a break on day seven (Sunday) for the full English, or kippers). Three sticks per week will easily keep a large, mature, rhubarb plant in order, and tusky porridge is a lot more pleasant than eating rhubarb crumble continuously for a fortnight. Not that I have anything against rhubarb crumble, its wonderful stuff, just not three times a day to try and get rid of rhubarb.
Around these parts (West Yorkshire) rhubarb is known as ‘tusky’, I don’t know why, it just is. I was brought up near rhubarb fields, or the tusky fields as we called them, and when I was kid we used giant sticks of rhubarb as swords. We also had ‘tusky fights’. A group of boys would suddenly descend on the tusky, often growing wild outside the fields, grab a length and beat each other into a stalemate, then fall about on the floor laughing. An utterly pointless game, but fantastic fun. That was before the internet obviously. I would get into big trouble if ever I was suspected of fighting, but I could come home black and blue from a tusky fight and nobody bothered. Amazing! In the West Riding of Yorkshire, rhubarb was a perfectly acceptable means of inflicting distress on your fellow humans (unlike nouvelle cuisine).
Hence the name of this recipe, which is my attempt at keeping an interesting, old word alive, because, sadly its use is in decline, as are many local dialect words and phrases around Britain.
I addition to your usual milk and rolled porridge oats, (2:1 ratio) what you need are the following four ingredients (though the black treacle is optional):
(Quantities are per person)
– a handful of chopped rhubarb – as much as you like and chopped according to your preference and taste.
– two teaspoons of honey – good local stuff, not rubbish from the supermarket.
– ginger powder – 7 shakes per person – use freshly bought, not something that’s been on a shelf for three years.
– black treacle – A tiny dab. You’ll probably find a tin of this welded to a shelf at the back of your cupboard, or your mums, everyone has one, but nobody knows why. It will probably be something to do with the war.
Rhubarb, ginger powder, honey and black treacle
What to do!
1 – Take a small handful of chopped rhubarb and chuck it in a non stick pan. Large or small chunks depending on your preference (see notes below).
large and small chunks for one person
large chunks for several people
tiny chunks of forced rhubarb for one
2 – Add two teaspoons of honey.
3 – Add a little bit of black treacle (not too much, perhaps a dab on the tip of a wooden spoon). You can always add a bit more next time.
Black treacle is a great ingredient, but you only need a tiny bit. Don’t overdo it though otherwise your porridge will taste like liquorice, not an ideal taste first thing in the morning.
a small amount of black treacle
4 – Add a little powdered ginger. I used to do seven shakes of my little herb shaker, which had little holes in the top but then its replacement had huge holes in the top so now I do a teaspoon tip full.
7 shakes or a teaspoon tip of ginger
all the ingredient in the pan and ready to start cooking
5 – Cook quite hard for a minute or two. The rhubarb cooks in the liquid given up from both the honey and the treacle, and not long after the rhubarb gives up its own liquid to continue the process. No need to add water! Younger rhubarb will give up more liquid than mature.
at the beginning of the cooking process
The combining of the ingredients with the rhubarb juices should give you a bubbling syrup, and a wonderful smell.
The colour of the syrup will depend on the amount of redness in your chosen rhubarb.
If you have a variety which will remain intact then you can boil the syrup to make it richer and darker.
the syrup starts to form
6 – Keep cooking, occasionally tapping or pressing the spoon on a piece of rhubarb, testing to see if it has started to go soft yet.
7 – As soon as the rhubarb starts to go soft, and gives a little under the spoon, then add the porridge and milk to your favoured consistency. (The usual ratio of milk to porridge is 2:1). The chunks should remain semi-intact leaving you with little taste bombs in the finished porridge. You stand a better chance of having chunks if you use more mature rhubarb, but it also depends on the variety. Rhubarb comes to the end of its season in July, when it begins to get very sour, and you have to put a bit more effort into seeking out newer, softer stems as the older ones will be going a bit woody and make your eyes water when you eat it.
If you want no chunks, just rhubarb flavoured porridge, then cook for a little longer, or use very young or slender rhubarb.
If you want both, that’s rhubarb flavoured porridge, and chunks, then chop small chunks and big chunks together. The small chunks will tend to melt and the big chunks will persist a bit longer.
If your rhubarb melts into the porridge instead of staying in lumps it might not be your fault as some rhubarb keeps it shape more readily than others. Forced rhubarb for example will always be softer than outdoor grown and will often dissolve into your porridge whether you like it or not.
But most of the time it’s your choice. Have it how you like, and with as much or as little rhubarb as you want.
My favourite method is to minimally cook large chunks of rhubarb to preserve them as little taste explosions in my porridge, but its up to you.
big pan of milky uncooked porridge
small pan of semi-cooked porridge
The milky porridge takes on the colour and flavour of the cooking juices and will require no other sweetening. The oats gradually soak up the wonderful liquid and the rhubarb chunks will remain intact and recognisable (with minimal cooking).
cooked porridge with rhubarb chunks
This is a very safe recipe because you can add as little or as much of the rhubarb, honey, or ginger as you like. You can also cut the rhubarb into whatever size chunks you want (for smooth or chunky porridge). It’s also simple because it doesn’t rely on precise weights and measures. You can’t really get it wrong! Even a failure is edible.
Some interesting points
A – Rhubarb – additional information
Tusky porridge contains nothing but healthy ingredients. Rhubarb in particular is enjoying a modest comeback having acquired ‘super food’ status. I don’t know what that means, do you? I think its something journalist made up. Next week they’ll probably be telling us it gives you cancer, or kills pregnant mothers, but for the time being you can rest assured that you will live forever if you eat it.
Some varieties of rhubarb are green rather than red and green. I don’t think the colour influences the taste at all but you get a darker porridge if you use a variety with red in it. The deeper the red then the darker (or pinker) the porridge.
cooking with a green variety of rhubarb
There is a variety of rhubarb called ‘Stocksbridge Harbinger’ which is green when grown outdoors, and blood red when forced. Amazing.
B – Good ingredients, a beekeepers rant
All the above ingredients are considered healthy, and come in a fairly standard form, except for the honey, which can be variable in quality and therefore taste. This recipe combines wonderful flavours to make a new flavour so good ingredients are important. Try and get a good local honey, something with a bit about it, you will notice the difference. Cheap supermarket honey is just glorified syrup, but if that’s all you’ve got at the moment then it will have to do, but I am slightly disappointed in you.
C – Puddings using the same ingredients and method.
Here’s a suggestion, for a pudding.
Cook the rhubarb, in the normal way but instead of adding porridge and milk, add cream or evaporated milk and you get an amazing pudding, ‘Tusky Pudding’ . If you pour that over vanilla ice cream ……. well, what do you think?
Another suggestion is to add the syrup and rhubarb to rice pudding.
So there you are, minutes to make a wonderful, tasty and healthy breakfast, without precise measurements.
It’s also a solution, for you home growers and allotmenteers, for rampant or unloved rhubarb.
Kids love it too.
Give it a try
p.s. Do you have a new way to use rhubarb? Let me know please and we can publish it here.
Video made in support of the above article:
If you are interested in traditional British foods then have a peek at my other web site ‘Kippers and Cobblers’ where you will find the biggest database of its kind in the world (possibly by default).