"They don't look anything like everything else at this market" the woman behind me in line said. After having another long look at the spread of vegetables at Jean-Michel Delahaye's stand she turned to me again, "look- the turnips still have their leaves."
She was right, Jean-Michel is the only 100 % producteur at Marché Ornano and his seasonal, natural, farm-fresh produce certainly does stand out against the sea of industrial food stocked stands that make up the rest of this market.
"Look at the rhubarb" I said to my neighbor, "what do you do with those?" I asked. Pausing to think, she replied frankly "I don't know, but I'm going to find out."
I love these in-line conversations where strangers talk about food and how to make it. These short conversations are unfailingly punctuated with stories, advice, solutions, and usually a bit of showmanship from the vendors.
Our rhubarb conversation went something like this:
my neighbor (to the lady in front of me in line): "Madame, do you know what to do with rhubarb?"
lady in line: "no idea"
neighbor: "No one knows how to make anything anymore" she sighs, "I'm going to ask another woman." (neighbor stops a lady walking down the street) "Madame, do you know what to do with rhubarb?" Madame responds that she is sorry, but she doesn't know what to do with a rhubarb, and then continues down the sidewalk.
Neighbor then turns towards a newcomer in line, a younger woman, "Do you know what to do with rhubarb?" The younger lady shakes her head no.
younger lady: "but you can look it up online. You can find everything online"
neighbor: "well I prefer word of mouth"
And then we hear a voice from way ahead in line announce: "compote"
All heads turn to the lady three people ahead of us, "you peel it and make a compote" she confirms and we're all ears. "But it's hard to peel, right?" my neighbor asks - and this is where Jean-Michel gets involved, "It's not hard at all" he proclaims, grabbing a stalk of rhubarb and knife and showing 5 sets of captive eyes how to cut into one end and pull off a long, solid strip of rhubarb skin.
"That's what I wanted, a demonstration" my neighbor said, turning to me.
"That's why I come to the market" I replied.
And then we all went our separate ways. Heading home with a half a dozen rhubarb stalks and I new recipe that we learned while standing in line.
And now I will put this recipe online, but I hope you'll share it with a stranger next time you're at the market because I prefer word of mouth, too.
4 cups rhubarb (about 6 medium sized stalks)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple juice (or water- Jean Michel uses water)
1) Wash your rhubarb then skin it (if the rhubarb is young, its skin may not be too tough and you don't have to peel it off. Try cutting it and if it won't come off freely, leave it on).
To take off the skin, cut into the rhubarb but not all the way through, pull back the skin with the knife- do so on both sides, trying to get as much of the skin off as you can (it's okay if a little bit stays on)
2) Cut the skinned rhubarb stalks into 3/4 inch pieces
3) In a bowl, combine rhubarb with sugar. Mix and let sit for at least 45 minutes- the longer the better, as the sugar will extract the juices from the rhubarb and the longer you leave it, the more syrup you'll have.
4) Once you let the sugar coated rhubarb sit so you have some syrup, bring your apple juice to a boil on medium heat. Add the rhubarb and sugar mixture and bring to a boil again.
5) Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, let cook for 5 minutes.
6) Remove cover and cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7) Once your compote has a liquid consistency, with no large chunks of stalks, remove from heat and let cool.
You can store your compote in the fridge and use it throughout the week- drizzled over cake or ice cream, or in the morning mixed in with your yogurt!