For the love of rhubarb, blossoms and Gillian Bell x


The absolute best thing about every workshop we’ve ever organised under the Local is Lovely banner is the relationships that evolve so sweetly out of each one. Friendships are made, collaborations are dreamt into life and the ripple effect of bringing together all these creative people under one roof, surrounded by beautiful food and countryside, is far-reaching.

Take this lady (above) for example – Gillian Bell, a professional cake baker and all round wonderful human-being. Gillian met Luisa at the Daily Plenty workshop earlier this year and then reached out with an offer to help out at the workshop I co-hosted last month with Luisa and Skye McAlpine. And help she did. Gillian worked like a trooper for almost four days, baking, telling stories, washing up, generally making people smile.

But most notable about her contribution to our last workshop was the rhubarb tart (recipe below) that went viral. Forget the fact we had her standing in Mum’s crab-apple tree all day, bees buzzing in and around her hair, she kept smiling and rolling and teaching, and the shrieks of laughter and click of cameras could be heard across the paddocks. Gillian’s smile and warmth never faltered and she really has a gift for baking; her cakes are fresh, seasonal, thoughtful and wholesome.

Here below is her recipe for rhubarb blossom tart that took Instagram  by storm last month and also… as an extra special treat…Gillian is the special guest on the latest episode of My Open Kitchen podcast. In this interview, she shares stories of her life as a precocious baker, feeding her family of 12 endless stream of cakes and biscuits but also of her travels (including the time she was mistakenly interred in an Eastern European jail – fo shiz). Please take a listen, it’s such a lovely episode.

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Gillian’s Rhubarb and crab apple tart with a rosemary crust

This recipe was inspired by the crab apple trees that line the entrance to Kimbri Farm, in early spring and the abundant rosemary herb in the kitchen garden. The filling to your tart should be made ahead of time so that it is completely cool before you fill your tart shell. A loose-bottom rectangular tart tin is ideal to use here, but if you don’t have one, feel free to improvise with whatever you have.

For the filling you will need

1 large bunch of fresh rhubarb
1 small jar of homemade crab apple jelly*
3 tbsp brown  sugar
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Trim and cut the rhubarb into 5 cm batons. Poach half of the rhubarb and while still warm, gently mix in the crab apple jelly to add the additional flavour notes and sweetness (here’s how). Place the remaining rhubarb in a baking tray sprinkled with the brown sugar and a few sprigs of rosemary and bake until tender but still intact.

*Or any other conserve that pairs well with rhubarb. If you don’t have crab apple jelly or a jar of conserve that you can pair with your rhubarb, you can just use brown or raw sugar to sweeten the rhubarb. Use as much as you wish – the level of sweetness will depend on your own preference and the tartness of the rhubarb.

For the pastry
100g of caster sugar
About enough soft tips (new growth) cut from a rosemary bush to cover the palm of your hand. Remove any woody stems and cut the tips up finely with your kitchen scissors.
250g of chilled butter, cut into cubes roughly the same size
500g of plain (all-purpose) flour
1 organic egg yolk (from a large hen’s egg). Keep the egg whites aside for later

Take a large bowl and pour your flour, rosemary and sugar into it. Add the butter cubes and gradually work the butter into the flour with your finger tips until evenly combined and your mixture looks like sand with specks of green in it. Alternatively, you can pour the flour, butter, and sugar into a food processor and ‘pulse’ until you get the sand consistency.

Add the egg yolk to the flour/butter/sugar mix and pulse to distribute, or mix through with your fingers if you are making the pastry by hand, and bring the mixture all together into a ball when all the ingredients are combined. If you are using the food processor, add your rosemary now and ‘pulse’ until the pastry comes together into a ball.

If the pastry is a little dry and not coming together without crumbling, add a teaspoon of iced water and pulse again.

Roll the pastry out on a large piece of cling film. Then fold the cling film over it and wrap it well, so that it doesn’t dry out, and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

Line your tart tin with the pastry and bake blind for 25 mins at 180C. Remove baking beans and return to oven for 10mins, or until tart is completely cooked and golden brown. I like to bake my pastry until it takes on a golden- brown colour, as I find the taste is more complex and satisfying.

To finish your tart

When the pastry tart case is cool, fill with the cool, poached rhubarb sweetened with crab apple jelly. Line the surface with the batons of roasted rhubarb.

Take the egg white you put aside earlier and add about a teaspoon of cold water to thin it. Mix well with your teaspoon. Then, gently dip some crab apple blossoms or edible flowers into the egg white, skake off any excess, then sprinkle  a little caster sugar over them. Shake off any excess sugar and allow them to air dry for a few minutes. Scatter the blossoms across your tart. Finally, finish with a light dusting of icing sugar around the crust of the tart.

* with sincere gratitude to Annie Herron for graciously allowing me to raid her cupboard of conserves.

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  1. Nicole Lehman says

    Just listened to your podcast. Loved Gillians biography so interesting how people come to love their jobs. Girls I really appreciate also conversations around social media and the way people use it and interact it. Even talking about photography. Thanks again Nicole

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