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a rhubarb fool + unrelenting tartness


Cut one hot pink stalk. Dip the fresh-cut end into a bowl of sugar and take a bite. There’s an initial damp, crunch sensation, similar to celery, with a bit more heft. Then it starts: the eyes begin to wince automatically, cheeks sucking in, slight head tilt to absorb it all. There’s a little joyful, granular shock of sweet sugar before the tongue returns to the roof of the month, trying to minimize the impact once more before it’s over. Sour. Delightfully, face-suckingly sour. The crunch, the unmistakable colour, the flavour unlike anything else in the plant world: an immediate fresh fruit impression with a thick, and heady sourness that stands up to all kinds of sweet. It refuses to go quietly; not under an enthusiastic dip in sugar, a thick blanket of oat crumble, buttery pastry, or eggy custard warm with tropical vanilla. Rhubarb remains with its strong character intact. It is such a unique, natural treasure to behold in springtime when deep pink crowns of it emerge in backyards, as if overnight.

A fruit fool is a rustically pretty, non-fussy, super English dessert (it dates back to the 16th century!). It very simply consists of sweetened and stewed/cooked and pureed fruit with whipped 35% cream and usually a little crunchy/biscuit-y something for textural contrast. The first time I saw one was years ago in this beautiful book by Jamie Oliver. Just the sheer name of it was calling to me. A speedy rhubarb fool. Pull it out of the garden, throw it together, chopped rhubarb and vanilla bean in the pot, whip the cream, delicately fold fold fold; all on a lark. Homey, charmingly clumsy, gorgeous pink and comforting.

I went a fairly non-traditional route with the cream component, subbing chilled and whipped coconut milk (favourite thing right now) with honey and vanilla bean. Since I went a bit crazy in that regard, I thought I would work some cardamom, ginger and orange into the rhubarb itself. A magical sprinkling of pistachios on top brings this exotic treat full circle. The rhubarb never hides under it all. A gaze at the shocking pink contrast, little sour pinch on your tongue to say hello. It’s perfect for grey spring days, something to savour now and keep as a reminder of the treasures to come while you sink your feet into the green grass and suck your cheeks together.


a rhubarb fool with vanilla coconut cream
serves: 4-6
notes: When you’re extracting the top “cream” layer from the can of coconut milk, be extra careful to not grab any of the coconut water with your spoon. Some chopped strawberries would be a lovely addition to the compote if they’re available in your area. Crumbled ginger snaps would be a fantastic topping/garnish option instead of pistachios.

rhubarb compote:
1 lb rhubarb, pink and light pink parts chopped
juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup agave nectar or raw honey, maple syrup etc. (or more if you like, I went kind of tart here)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

vanilla coconut cream:
2 cans full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
3 tbsp maple syrup or powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed–or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

handful of roasted pistachios, shelled and chopped (optional)

Combine the chopped rhubarb, orange juice, agave nectar, cardamom and ginger in a large saute pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Simmer the mixture until the rhubarb starts breaking down and the consistency is slightly jammy and compote-like, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Make the cream: Remove the top layer of solid cream from the cans of coconut milk, carefully avoiding the water at the bottom of the can (reserve this for smoothies). Place the cream into a small bowl. Add the maple syrup/powdered sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Mix with a hand mixer on medium-high speed, stopping and scraping down here and there. Mix until a lightly stiff, whipped cream-like consistency is achieved. Wrap and set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To serve: Place about half a cup of the cooled rhubarb compote in each serving dish. Top with a dollop of the vanilla coconut cream and a sprinkle of pistachios if you like.

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Kasey16/05/2012 - 4:47 pm

Though I’m all about my sweets, I happen to love that tart, puckery sensation associated with biting into rhubarb. This is where the Brits really know how to live! Gorgeous, gorgeous.

Maria @ Scandifoodie16/05/2012 - 6:11 pm

I looooove rhubarb! And I actually love the sourness of it. This sounds absolutely delicious!

Cookie and Kate16/05/2012 - 8:48 pm

I’ve never tasted fresh rhubarb or tried a fool, but I’m sold on the idea of both now that I’ve read your post. I love sour stuff, bring on the sour!

Shanna | FoodLovesWriting.com16/05/2012 - 9:14 pm

That first paragraph is killer, such a perfect description of the taste of rhubarb. Beautifully written!

autumn17/05/2012 - 6:31 am

I love fools! This kind, not the unfortunate human kind. And I have been wanting to try the refrigerate/whip coconut whipped cream method, this is a perfect excuse! Looks lovely.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar17/05/2012 - 6:38 am

Oh my, I just love rhubarb! This looks delightful!

sarah17/05/2012 - 10:32 pm

This looks fantastic! All kinds of goodness going on here. I made coconut milk whipped cream for the first time recently and liked it so much. And I’m smitten with those last two photos. I love spoons and action shots.

sarah @ two tarts19/05/2012 - 6:23 pm

This sounds & looks so delicious. I have a leftover can of coconut milk in the fridge and rhubarb growing in my yard. If I get a burst of energy later today, and I hope I do, I plan to eat this for dessert tonight! :)

[…] pods, or vanilla seeds, I just winged it, pulling on some ideas from thefirstmess’s version here. I thought at the last minute this morning I’d make some crisp oatmeal lace cookies to go […]

Sarah21/05/2012 - 3:16 pm

I love a good fool (haha). Rhubarb is great, too—love the glut of it this time of year.

kale21/05/2012 - 8:16 pm

Second rhubarb fool I’ve seen today. Both make me want to make this right now!!

Denise | Chez Danisse25/05/2012 - 1:33 pm

I cannot seem to get enough rhubarb and this looks like a nice combination of flavors and textures. I’m especially intrigued by the coconut cream and roasted pistachios.

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Angelie23/06/2012 - 3:00 am

Looks yummi! I’m gonna make this tonight – it’s gonna be great :D makes it easy and satisfying to be lactose intolerant ;)

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Veronica12/11/2014 - 1:45 am

Hi Laura,

I have just found your site. Being a lover of good food, cooking, photography and all things healthy I have to congratulate you on your wonderful recipes and awesome photos.

Today is one to treasure here in Melbourne where we often have 4 seasons in one day. But today is a perfect spring day with clear skies and the smell of flowers and newly cut grasses wafting in through my front door on such a gentle breeze.

It was a perfect day to enjoy a relaxing lunch on the verandah, roasted vegetables from the farmers market with rosemary polenta and roasted tomato relish.

BUT, the treat of the day was your Rhubarb Fool with Vanilla Coconut Cream. Oh, my goodness, what a taste sensation. Both my partner and I didn’t want this dessert to end. Thank goodness there is some left for tomorrow!! It will be my next dessert for a dinner party. Thank you.

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