February is 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.
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 is a vegetable, even though we treat it like a fruit. Rhubarb tart is a timeless classic – sweet and sour fruit encased in buttery crisp pastry is hard to beat, as is crumble.
The French have been pairing oily fish and rhubarb for generations and it’s a combination that really works.
We serve tart apple sauce with crackly roast pork but rhubarb works just as well – the zing cutting through the fat.
When you have something as beautiful as this, you really need to show it off, centre stage.
My first recipe this week is for a rhubarb and brown butter tart.
Brown butter is when you cook the butter until it melts, the foam dissipates and you can smell nuts.
The French call it Beurre Noisette, meaning brown butter and it’s a classic flavour profile.
It’s normally used in savoury dishes but in the recipe it’s whisked into eggs and sugar and combined with flour to make a very light sponge.
The slightly roasted rhubarb is poked into the sponge in a tart case to make a rich and tangy dessert.
If you want to capture the essence of this limited treasure for future use you could freeze it or make it into a jelly or chutney.
However an easier way is to make it into gin. Combine the pink rhubarb with sugar and gin in kilner jar, store for a month, strain and you have a deliciously fragrant, pink gin to savour when the first primroses appear in the spring.