Late in February little red rhubarb lumps began to nose out of the dirt. At first I panicked slightly: wasn’t it too early for delicate young fruit to appear? Wouldn’t they die in the frost and snow that would inevitably appear throughout the following few months? After a call to my Dad I discovered that all was well. Rhubarb is a hardy plant and would happily bear the cold weather. He also told me that I could force the rhubarb for an early, sweeter crop.
At first I was hesitant – to “force”sounds so cruel – but my impatience to eat food from my garden again was too great and I decided to give it a go, appeasing my conscience by referring to the process as coaxing rather than forcing.
The process couldn’t have been more simple. Once the rhubarb (which was a cutting from my Dad’s own rhubarb transplanted to my garden last spring) started to prod through the ground I stuck a bucket on top of it and secured it from the highland winds with a large stone. Keeping a plant in the dark and expecting it to grow sounded like madness to me but a wee keek every now and again told me that the rhubarb was growing fine.
After six weeks the fruit was so big it was struggling for space and it was at this stage that I removed the bucket and began to harvest my rhubarb.
Those of you out there who find rhubarb too sharp to eat, try forced rhubarb. It has a sweeter, more delicate flavour that might change your mind. My first use of my first crop of 2008 was very simple: a stewed, spiced rhubarb to stir into porridge, spoon over yogurt or enjoy with ice-cream.
Stewed Rhubarb with Ginger
(enough for 4 bowls of porridge or yogurt)
200g rhubarb, cut into 2cm pieces
30g brown sugar (more if you wish)
1/2 tspn ground ginger
Pre-heat oven to 200oC.
Add rhubarb to a small oven proof dish and sprinkle with the the sugar and ginger. Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit is soft and stewing in its own juices.
Eat hot, warm or cold.