rhubarb soup

Kiiseli is a fruit soup from Finland that generations of my family grew up making. The family recipe is drawn from my mother’s best advice, her 1966 Finnish cookbook, a peek through my grandmother’s 1948 cookbook and a family friend’s 1933 cookbook. With all that research, your kiisseli should make a fine old fashioned (yet gluten and dairy-free!) dessert.

kiisselli

We’re going to need:
1 litre water,
750 grams chopped rhubarb,
200 grams sugar, to taste,
4 tbsp fine potato, tapioca or arrowroot flour,
more for acidic fruit.

Cook the rhubarb in the water for a short while til softened. Add sugar to taste. (I like to pop up the sweetness with stevia, and drop the sugar.) Dissolve potato flour in a small amount of cool water and then stir the solution very well into the rhubarb mix, til it just begins to boil. Take the rhubarb off the heat, and sprinkle a little sugar on top to prevent a skin forming. Serve it cool. Double cream or ice cream is gorgeous with it. We love combining rhubarb & strawberries, or in the summer, blueberries & raspberries. My mother usually adds the strawberries or raspberries when finished cooking to retain their freshly picked flavour. I love to think of all my relatives, a long time ago, maybe on the farm in Finland, making kiiseli, eating it together round the table. I have pictures of my children as toddlers, painted with rhubarb soup.

FinnCookbkKiiselit.2.jpg

I look forward to the moment our rhubarb is tall enough to pull!

rhubarb crown

Rhubarb, like so many things I adore, requires more patience than work. You can plant a rhubarb crown through March – though November or December is best – so we squeaked in a quick bit of transplanting.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

My mother’s well-established rhubarb is coming along nicely. Next door to this raised bed, we needed to move some rhubarb to another spot.

rhubarb crown

We gently dug it out, just as you would if you were dividing it. I can see what it is called a crown, the roots are majestic.

rhubarb planting

The crown needs to be planted with the growth at or just above the soil level, and some good compost tipped in first will help it get a good start. Here’s where the patience comes in. Aside from watering in well, the rhubarb isn’t harvested in its first year, and only lightly in the second. Yet for a good ten years, the rhubarb should provide nicely, without much attention at all. A bit of fertiliser in midsummer perhaps, and then cutting back the leaves in autumn when they’ve died off. Not much to it.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

It seems happy enough, though it might have preferred moving earlier in the year. One day I’ll be settled enough to put in my own rhubarb and look forward to years of pulling rhubarb for kiiseli, rhubarb tarts, rhubarb anything. Perhaps I shall give in to a Victorian impatience and try forcing it with a rhubarb pot! I anticipate it each spring as the first local fruit of the season.

rhubarb pot

Rhubarb is one of those vegetables that does so well posing as fruit, it was officially granted the title in 1947. In early spring before plants are fruiting, rhubarb is such a delight. And there’s a tried & true tool I’d love to have, that promises rhubarb far earlier. The rhubarb pot.

rhubarb pot © elisa rathje 2012

Rhubarb forcers are bell shaped pots with a lid covered opening at the top. Used to cover rhubarb to limit photosynthesis, they encourage the plant to grow early in the season and also to produce blanched stems. The pots are placed over two to three year old rhubarb crowns during winter or very early spring. Once shoots appear the lid is taken off, causing them to grow towards the light.
Straw and manure tucked round the pots helps to insulate the terra cotta. Every two or three years a crown can be forced, so being able to remove the pot whilst leaving the plant in the ground, is a brilliant solution.

sandwell park farm walled kitchen garden © elisa rathje 2012
Forcing rhubarb seems simple enough, and the pots are so charming and sculptural, not unlike another Victorian favourite, the thumb-sprinkler. I adore the the walled kitchen gardens in Europe, with their cold frames, espaliered trees, cloches and rhubarb pots. One day I may venture out to the Rhubarb Triangle, perhaps never to return. I’d love some rhubarb just now, to make a family recipe for rhubarb soup.