Mousse de rhubarbe aux fraises

Springtime in Paris means rhubarb and strawberries, and they combine delightfully in this light, bright dessert. The mousse can be whipped up — literally — in just a few minutes. The rhubarb is softened with sugar, the strawberries are puréed, the mix is lightened with a beaten egg white and whipped cream is folded in at the end. Topped with strawberry pieces and perhaps a sprig of basil or mint, the mousse makes a lovely end to a meal.

Mousse de rhubarbe aux fraises / Rhubarb-strawberry mousse

When I served this dessert the other night to three friends who dropped by for supper, the talk turned to rhubarb. Was it poisonous if eaten raw? Rather a moot point in my humble opinion, as raw rhubarb is so disagreeably tart that one bite would discourage anyone. But we asked Dr. Google and found that the raw stalks are not toxic, but the leaves are.

I looked into it further in the morning and learned that rhubarb has been cultivated for nearly two millennia, for both culinary and pharmaceutical purposes. Over the centuries it moved from China to the Islamic world over the Silk Road and then on to Europe and the Americas. Rhubarb was deemed so precious in the 1400s that it was included in a diplomat’s list of the best products arriving in Samarkand from China, along with silk, satin, diamonds, rubies, pearls and musk (merci Wikipedia).

It made its way to our table via a circuitous route stemming from my daughter’s request that I make a rhubarb dessert she’d had in England at the home of my friend Penny, a superlative cook. The email exchange that followed established that the dessert in question must have been ‘rhubarb fool’, in which the rhubarb is baked in the oven and then combined with the juice of a blood orange and custard, i.e. what is known in France as crème anglaise. Penny advised using forced rhubarb for its bright red color.

Well, mes amis, forced rhubarb, which is grown in sheds by candlelight, may be popular in England but I’ve never seen it here in France. Meantime the season for blood oranges is behind us, and preparing custard is a bit of a production. So I decided to go French and make a mousse instead. The moral of this story? Next spring my daughter will have to board the Eurostar and go to Penny’s for a very special April fool.

Happy cooking.

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