Rhubarb - a winter treat to see us through lockdown and into Spring

We might be in a lockdown but February is still a month that elicits hope – the days are getting longer, shoots are starting to appear on the branches of stark, grey trees and it’s the season for English forced rhubarb.

It’s one of life’s blessings that a Yorkshire grower decided to place a bucket on early rhubarb shoots and trick them into coming up months earlier than they should.

The resulting perfectly pert, pink stems would brighten the darkest heart.

There’s an area in the county of Yorkshire known as the rhubarb triangle, that straddles the towns of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell.

Nowadays, with growing demand, the bucket has been replaced with dark or candlelit sheds, within this area, where the rhubarb grows prolifically.

Thankfully it’s getting over the sea OK and should be in your local greengrocers or farm shop.

This treasure isn’t around for long.

You can buy forced rhubarb from a Dutch hot house, all year round but it doesn’t have the same mystique and charm.

It’s also known as Champagne rhubarb - a prized ingredient that’ll you pay quite dearly for but is a wonderful luxury.

Unlike its robust summer variety, this one is delicate as a flower and should be treated with respect.

Rhubarb and custard is a classic match made in heaven.

The first recipe this week is for a wobbly, creamy custard pannacotta served with ginger poached new season rhubarb and a honey, oaty crumble to add a bit of crunch.

To preserve the rhubarb, I slice two stalks of it and pack into a kilner jar, add 100g sugar, the pared zest of an orange and top with gin.

Shake a couple of times a day for a week and then allow to infuse.

In a couple of months, strain, use the rhubarb for a dessert and have the gin with ice and tonic.

Rhubarb is Asian in origin, which is perhaps why it works so well with ginger.

It’s also a perfect sharp foil for creamy coconut.

My other recipe is for coconut meringues with a rhubarb and raspberry compote.

Use frozen raspberries – they’re perfectly acceptable and have been picked at their prime here in the summer rather than flown half way round the world now.

Rhubarb and raspberries have a great affinity and the coconut brings them together beautifully.

Forced rhubarb is one of nature’s constants that reminds us that the world keeps turning and everything’s going to be OK.

The American poet Emily Dickinson put it succinctly, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words. And never stops at all.”

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