Rhubarb plants – with their ornate and statuesque figures – have long been sought after and used as garden staples for centuries. Rhubarb cultivation in Norway is mentioned to have first begun around the 1700s, with rhubarb prized for its medicinal benefits. The root was dried and taken for preventative measures as well as used as medicine for digestive problems.
Rhubarb eventually found its way into the Norwegian kitchen in the 19th century. Its sour stalks appealing – and sugar being its greatest companion.
A raw stalk dipped into sugar meant the simplest delight of that sweet and sour combination. Even to this day, eating a sugar-coated, freshly-picked stalk is a common practice, especially with children.
Another simple dish that comes to mind during spring in Norway is rabarbragrøt, a somewhat-thick, sweet rhubarb soup that has been part of the Norwegian food culture for probably as long as rhubarb has been cooked in the home. It’s a delicate soup without any fuss. You can serve it warm or cold, plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.
Sometimes the short season for spruce tips, which takes place in early spring, coincides with the time to harvest rhubarb stalks. This year was that cross-over. With a bucketful of spruce tips in hand, I tested out new recipes for scones and infused salt. I even made staple favorites like syrup and pickles. With more tips leftover and a perpetual heat wave hitting Norway, it felt like the perfect time to make a creamy, custard ice cream with the last handful.
Rhubarb and spruce tips may seem like an unlikely pairing, but these two distinct flavors complement each other in the most interesting of ways. Rhubarb soup is sweet and a little tart, while the ice cream reflects a subtle earthiness.
Both of these desserts can stand alone on their own or be paired together for a delightful treat. One thing to note is that spruce tips appear for a very short season in the spring – the timing depending upon the geography and climate. Once harvested, the spruce tips can be stored for months in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a couple of holes and a damp paper towel. You can also freeze them for later use.
Rhubarb Soup and Spruce Tip Ice Cream (Rabarbragrøt og granskuddiskrem)
Serves 4 to 6
For the rhubarb soup:
- 4 ¼ cups (500 g) rhubarb, diced
- 1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water
- 2 tablespoons potato starch (potetmel) or cornstarch
For the spruce tip ice cream:
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk
- 1 ½ cups (360 ml) heavy cream
- ¾ cup (150 g) sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (40 g) spruce tips, cleaned and finely chopped
To make the rhubarb soup:
In a large saucepan, add the rhubarb, sugar, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender and falling apart.
Mix the potato starch with a little water in a small cup and add it to the soup. Stir until blended and thickened. Remove from the heat. You can serve it warm or place in the refrigerator and serve cold.
To make the spruce tip ice cream:
In a small saucepan, warm the milk and cream just before it begins to boil.
In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the sugar and egg yolks. Whisk in a little of the warm milk mixture into the bowl. Slowly add a little more at a time, whisking constantly to prevent any curdling, until everything is well combined. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat slightly to warm, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
When cooled, stir in the finely chopped spruce tips. Cover with a lid and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.
Pour the custard through a mesh strainer to catch the spruce tip pieces and discard. It’s perfectly fine if some spruce tip pieces remain in the custard after straining.
Pour the mixture into a prepared ice cream maker and run for about 15 minutes, or until thickened but still creamy. Pour into a freezer safe container with a lid until ready to use.
Serve the rhubarb soup warm or cold with a scoop of the spruce tip ice cream. Enjoy!