Although a vegetable native to Serbia, rhubarb has been cultivated on mainland Britain since the early 18th Century, grown in two distinct crop cycles. The first, forced rhubarb, springs into season in early January, grown under strict indoor conditions making for a more tender yet tarter crop. The second cycle, known as main crop rhubarb, relies on the milder climate of spring. Frost-free, outdoor conditions yields a more vibrant and intensely flavoured rhubarb but one with a more fibrous texture.
Seasonal period: Forced Rhubarb: January to February. Main crop Rhubarb: March to June
Flavour friends: Rhubarb’s sharpness is best matched with ingredients with an overtly sweet palate such as; honey, vanilla and anise. Alternatively, its tart tendencies are the perfect pairing for game birds, rich meats or oily fish such as; wild duck, lamb or mackerel.
Buying, storing and preparing: Choose firm, crisp stalks with vibrant leaves. Rhubarb is best consumed as close to purchase as possible to avoid wilting, although it can be stored for approximately a week in the fridge. Store with leaves attached, however, due to their poisonous nature, ensure all leaves are discarded of before cooking.
Cooking: Sweeten with sugar and add a little citrus for depth of flavour – Roast: Forced 15 minutes, Main crop 20 minutes. Stew: Forced 8 minutes, Main crop 10 minutes.
Words by Helen Upshall