Although it came here originally from Russia, rhubarb is, for me, an extremely English fruit, arriving at a very important time in the calendar – early spring, when there's absolutely no other interesting fruit in season.
It really is a curious, wonderfully different fruit – no other comes to us as an elongated stalk. Watching it grow, almost secretly, in the garden under its umbrella of wide, green leaves is fascinating.
As early as March, we can buy the tender, pink stalks of forced rhubarb, which have a delicate, youthful flavour. Then, in May, we begin to see that the rhubarb is a deeper, rosier red. Later on, in June and July, it will be dark crimson, more acid and less sweet, so a little more sugar is needed at this time. Use it in crumble, in pies, or in Old-fashioned Rhubarb Trifle.
When it comes to preparing and cooking rhubarb, first trim off the leaves and cut the stalks into 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks. I never, ever simmer or boil rhubarb because it tends to mash up, so to keep the pieces intact, it's best to bake it in the oven using 3 oz (75 g) of sugar to each 1 lb 8 oz (700 g) of fruit, pre-heating the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C). Place it in a shallow dish and give it 30-40 minutes, uncovered.
This amount will serve four people.
A wonderfully easy way to serve rhubarb, this lovely compote totally avoids that common problem with rhubarb - mush! - as it cooks slowly in the oven without water to keep its texture and shape but add loads of flavour.
In this superb cheesecake, rhubarb is combined with ginger - a luscious partnership - to make a dessert that's perfect for spring, when rhubarb is in season.
It has to be said that while we were filming ice creams for The Summer Collection television series, the team tasted them all (with not a spoonful left over!) and voted this one their number one favourite.
Old-fashioned because when I was a child – a very long time ago – I used to love jelly trifles, and my mother would always make one for my birthday. This is a much more adult version...
I’m not very horticulturally minded but rhubarb is, I think, technically, a vegetable. But since the richness of duck is always complemented by something sweet and acidic, rhubarb is absolutely perfect.