I’m a terrible shopper when traveling. Fortunately, the Gardener is not. Other husbands may bring home gifts of meat. Much like the Will Ferrell character in the movie Stranger than Fiction, mine brings me flours. There was buckwheat flour from a trip to Switzerland, a bag of farro flour from Italy, and barley flour from Iceland. As I recall, each was put to use in making pasta — buckwheat pizzoccheri, farro cavatelli, and barley orecchiette. More recently, delving deeper into baking has expanded my way of thinking about these less common or, as Hank Shaw calls them, alternate flours.
While in Reykjavik this spring, we visited the natural food store that the barley flour had originally come from. We found that they no longer carried it, with the explanation that though the barley flour was locally grown and produced in Iceland, their customers preferred organic, even if it was imported. Still, barley, along with rye, is one of the few cultivated crops that can thrive in Iceland’s rugged climate. In New England, there are few small grower/producers of barley flour to be found, one such is Four Star Farms in Massachusetts. Mostly, I look to Fiddler’s Green Farm, based in Maine; most of the grains are sourced from away, however, they are ground fresh and by the order.
When confronted with a flour I’m unfamiliar with, I often turn to Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain as a start. I’m always searching for ways to use home preserves, and her recipe for Strawberry Barley Scones is easy to adapt to kind of jam. Rhubarb is a traditional ingredient in Icelandic cooking, particularly preserved as a jam, and seemed an apt pairing with the barley flour.
In terms of preserving, rhubarb presents an curious ingredient to make jam from. It’s a vegetable, but acidic enough to be safely processed in a boiling water bath. Though naturally low in pectin, rhubarb’s acidity also allows it to gel without adding more pectin. Macerating the rhubarb with sugar further strengthens the set by drawing water away from the pectin, making room for their molecules to unite.
For a more vibrant hue, choose a red variety of rhubarb, one that will cook up true to color. The ginger is an optional addition, and the next time I may grate it up for more of a flavor punch. Do watch the jam as it simmers; it can become volcanic, as the jam on my kitchen ceiling will attest. It’s not the first time I’ve had to scrape jam off it, and, alas, probably not the last.
As for the barley scones, Boyce’s lovely recipe can be found here, and are exactly as she describes — distinctly sweet and creamy, a contrasting foil to the tang of the rhubarb jam. In addition to the barley flour, some all-purpose flour adds structure. Don’t skimp on the jam; a half cup will seem like a lot, but evens out as the scones bake. I skipped the melted butter at the end and, instead, brushed the tops with buttermilk before baking. For an even more Icelandic touch, use skyr in place of the buttermilk, and serve with whipped cream on the side.
2 pounds rhubarb stalks, chopped into ½ inch pieces
3 cups sugar, up to 4 cups for a sweeter jam
2-inch piece of ginger, cut into 4 to 5 pieces crosswise
– Mix all ingredients together in a non-aluminum bowl, and let sit overnight, 12 to 36 hours, until sugar has dissolved and juices form.
– Drain rhubarb juices into a sauce pan, set the rhubarb aside. Pick out the ginger pieces and add to the saucepan with the juices.
– Bring the juices to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the rhubarb, and continue simmering for 15 minutes, until thickened. Remove ginger pieces before ladling in jars.
– Store in refrigerator or process in jars for 10 minutes, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Makes about 4 cups or half-pints.
Adapted from “The Breakfast Book” by Marion Cunningham.
Local ingredients: Organic barley flour from Fiddler’s Green Farm; organic cultured butter from Casco Bay Butter; homemade buttermilk from Harris Farm milk; egg from Meadow’s Mirth; rhubarb from the garden.