Friday, 28 March 2014

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

When I read other people's food blogs and see what they are coping with in terms of food allergies and intolerances, I have to say that I thank my lucky stars and reach for the peanut butter. To have to think every time you go into the kitchen - or to the shops - about whether something is going to harm someone you love - it must be difficult. I know that people adapt, and often demonstrate a flair for invention in their cookery that those of us not challenged in the same way can lack. I admire that - so what if I/he/she can't eat eggs/milk/nuts/tomatoes - I will make sure I/he/she eats something even more delicious - and I'd like to think that I'd be one of those people, but it must be hard - especially that underlying fear that get it wrong, have a lapse in concentration, and it could all go very badly wrong very 


The only allergy I am aware of in the RJ flock is one that Blue revealed when he was being treated for leukaemia. One of the more stressful administrations was of a drug that had to be injected directly into his muscle rather than via the Hickman line that he had fitted (to avoid the need for canulas and the like everytime he needed a blood test, a transfusion, or drugs). The drug concerned was a known allergen and as a result every one who received it was required to remain on the hospital ward for an hour after it had been injected.

The second time he received the injection (with a lot of tears and indignation), we waited our allotted hour and made our way downstairs (the children's oncology ward, the wonderful Piam Brown Ward is on the 8th floor of Southampton General Hospital). We'd been in hospital for a long time, and I was desperate to get home, some 45 minutes away up the M3. Blue was fussing a bit in his pushchair, but I assumed he was just tired and feeling ratty from the cocktail of drugs he'd received over the course of the preceding few hours. He started to ask for a drink. My instinct was to just get in the car and drive, but something stopped me, and I went and bought a bottle of water at a vastly inflated price.

I crouched down to give him the bottle with a certain amount of bad grace. Don't judge me - it was exhausting the whole caring for a sick child thing, and while I would do it again in a flash should either one of them become ill again (although that's not an invitation), I spent a lot of time feeling irritable, emotional, and grouchy, especially when we'd spent a day in hospital. And do bear in mind that I was 8 months' pregnant at this stage.

So I was crouching down and helping him with the bottle - he was only 2 and a bit - when I noticed the tiniest, wierd red mark in the corner of his mouth. This time my instincts took over - while me head kept telling me to just get to the car and get home, my heart said "Just go and get it checked - you're in hospital anyway".

I headed back to the lift, getting quicker as Blue became more and more restless. Waited for the lift, back up the 8 floors, hurtled down the corrider, pressed the buzzer to be let into the ward. As I flung the double doors opened and burst into the reception area, Blue did a spectacular projectile vomit and came out in the most massive rash. It was terrifying. And just thank God that I hadn't got in the car and driven off...

Fortunately, the nurses came rushing, drugs were administered and 2 days later we went home. The immediate upshot was that the required waiting time after the injection changed from an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, so sorry about that if it affects you, and for Blue, instead of having one injection of that particular drug every time he needed it, he had to have 6 injections (every other day over 2 weeks) of a variant of the same drug which he didn't react to. My how we laughed...

So I do understand about allergies and how terrifying an allergic reaction can be. 

My children's previous school banned nuts entirely. There were children with allergies, and when I challenged, I was advised that there were cases of children going into anaphalactic shock as a result of a parent coming in and kissing them having consumed some peanuts in the pub earlier. Now I don't want anyone to die or have the same kind of terrifying experience that we went through, but I cook a lot with nuts - especially cake, and the ban meant that the kids were unable to take these treats in to school in their packed lunches. And if they don't take things to school they sit in the cupboard or fridge calling to me...

So the new school. The first couple of weeks they had school dinners. A revelation - proper portions, and leftovers distributed to those who wanted. I kid you not, my gannets have been able to have thirds on occasion... But wanting to balance things out, we've moved back to having some packed lunches as before, and so the issue of nuts arose. I couldn't find any information on the school website or in any of the paperwork I'd received so I made enquiries and was told that nuts were allowed - there was a child with allergies, but as long as food wasn't shared, well that was OK.

Now, I don't know if there was a reason why the previous school couldn't take this approach - and I don't want to downplay the seriousness of nut allergies - I know they can be very serious indeed - and it's probably because I had a few other issues with their old school - but it felt like the voice of common sense washing over me. It also meant that they've been able to take slices of this lush cake to school with them this week.

I'm not shy in my adoration of the pink sticks that are rhubarb, and as we had left a prolific patch behind, I was very excited to see a patch in the garden of the house we are renting. Rhubarb and almond is one of my favourite combinations, and this cake just hit the spot last weekend.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake 

40g light muscovado sugar
40g butter
grated zest of a clementine
350g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5 cm slices
85g unsalted butter
120g caster sugar
2 large eggs
70g plain flour
2/3 tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds

pinch salt
splash of milk
toasted flaked almonds

You'll also need a 20 cm frying pan which can go in the oven.

Pre heat the oven to to 180C.

Put the sugar and butter in the pan and melt together.

Sprinkle over the grated zest, remove the pan from the heat and arrange the rhubarb pieces over the top.

Cream together the butter and caster sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time, still beating. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and then add in the ground almonds, and fold in to the mixture.

Add in the milk - just a splash - then spread the batter over the rhubarb and pop in the oven.

Bake for about 30 mins till the mixture is firm to the touch.

Leave to cool for 20 minutes or so in the pan, then loosen round the edges and turn the cake out onto a plate so that the rhubarb is upper most.

Sprinkle over the toasted almonds and serve.



  1. Love it, my rhubarb is just coming through, am pinning for later :-)

  2. Blimey. Love your mini rant. I think allergies are like a medal these days. Gorgeous cake and agree that almonds and rhubarb are a fab combo x

  3. That looks delicious. I used to hate Rhubarb when I was younger, can't get enough of it now! :D Unfortunately we have a nut allergy, to brain shaped nuts as you may have read on my blog recently. Completely bizarre (nothing normal in this house) and slightly worrying. Luckily though, I don't think it's life-threatening, I just hope it doesn't worsen as he gets older...

    1. I sympathise - these allergies are so random. I did resad yourpost about the brain shaped nut allergy. I hope it doesn't get worse.

  4. Rhubarb is the best fruit in a cake - I love it!


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