Friday, May 22, 2015

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Refreshing Rhubarb (with Red Pepper Jelly and Star Anise) and Road Trips

Refreshing Rhubarb (with Red Pepper Jelly and Star Anise) and Road Trips  

My wife loves rhubarb because it reminds her of her Grandmother. Grannie was a wonderful gardener and would give the children rhubarb stalks sprinkled with sugar to chew on as soon as the first harvest from her garden was ready. Tart and crunchy, it’s a memory of carefree childhood. 

Grannie’s approach is too tart for me, so I improvised a version that would work for both Roberta and I. This gloriously-refreshing stewed rhubarb recipe is dead simple to make, and can be eaten as an easy dessert (with a crisp oatmeal cookie, perhaps), as a fillip to the tastebuds at breakfast, or perhaps incorporated in a cocktail. The possibilities abound and I leave readers to experiment with ingredient quantities to their taste.

I took a dozen or so slim fresh rhubarb stalks (the leaves are poisonous), chopped them into inch long pieces and put them in a pan with a cup and a half of water. (They will release more water so use more or less water if you like your compote thinner or thicker.) I then added a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a large dollop of red pepper jelly (for an interesting colour accent, and to add a tad more sweetness as well as a colourful, fiery hit) and a couple of star anise pods.

I stirred the gently simmering mixture to dissolve the sugar and jelly, and as soon as the stalks were tender (perhaps ten minutes or so) I turned off the heat. As the contents cool you can adjust the sweetness: I sometimes add a touch of fresh maple syrup. You can eat the dish warm, or (my preference) chilled in the fridge. It’s delicious with or without a dribble of cream.

Thinking of spring also brings to mind road trips and discovering the bounty of other parts of Southern Ontario.

A wonderful event is coming up June 6th – 7th, just to the south, in Beamsville. Nearly sold out, Graze the Bench has eight wineries teaming up with some of the top chefs in the area for what promises to be a splendid weekend of bevvies, munching and tunes. You can also “Rock the Bench” on the evening of June 5th at Thirty Bench Winery. Our friends at Memphis Fire are providing the bound-to-be-tasty BBQ.

Try Smoking Buddha’s oriental offerings at Angels Gate winery, Chef Mark Hand’s fennel sausage at Mike Weir winery, El Gastro’s amazing food (Check out my early review of their new cookbook, Curbside, in the previous column) at the Organized Crime Winery, and Chef Victor Barrie’s “100 day aged chuck burger” at Hidden Bench Vineyard among others. As a member of Les Marmitons, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of cooking under the direction of all these chefs and can promise you their food is nothing short of amazing and alone worth the trip. And the wines at all the participating wineries aren’t half bad either!

Going north, I’d alert readers to the upcoming May 30th Spring Rural Romp in Wellington County. It is a self-guided farm, plant nursery and food tour and includes great opportunities to win prizes by participating in the Butter Tart Trail Challenge (mmm… butter tarts), and a photo contest.

Enjoy the warming weather and all it brings to bloom!

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Alex (Alex can be reached at fft@thehamiltonian.info or on twitter @AlexBielak)


  1. I just had a wonderful dinner, but I tell you after reading this article I feel I need some Ruhbarb sauce my mother use to make when I was a child. Oh my goodness I am truly full but all these mentions sound so good!!!


  2. AnonymousMay 23, 2015

    As a kid, I can remember picking rubarb from my neighbour's yard. She had it planted right near the property line and I had no idea that it was good, until she started bragging about the stuff she would make with it. A geat childhood memoir. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  3. Thanks Maggie and Anon for sharing your own memories. We had gooseberries at the back of our garden and I recall those wonderful jams!


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