As early as February, we can buy the tender, pink stalks of forced rhubarb, which have a delicate, youthful flavour.
Then, in the spring, 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 crumbles, in pies, or in Old-fashioned Rhubarb Trifle.
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.
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.
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