IN THE PINK
Forced rhubarb brings an early tang of summer
Plants are cultivated in darkened sheds and harvested by hand, in candlelight
In his Dorset kitchen, Gill Meller –food writer and adviser to hugh F earnle y-Whitting st all at river cottage–wilfully invents opportunities for roses to meet with rhubarb. In Gather (Quadrille, £25), he writes of throwing petals on top of rhubarb pavlova, and adding flower water, along with honey, to a pan of slow-stewing pink stalks. Meller introduces chopped rose petals to raw rhubarb, finely sliced like celery, in a zesty salt cure for trout fillets (right); the stalks’ gentle sweetness is a good foil to the nutty fish.
the award-winning American food writer ruth reich l also shares a fish ’ n’ ’ ba rb combo in My Kitchen Year (Murdoch Books, £20), brushing panfried salmon with the strained juices of rhubarb chunks cooked with half a cup of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of water. And once mackerel abounds in the summer months, I reckon pickled rhubarb is the ultimate match.
With seasonality in mind, why do we swoon over winter rhubarb, coerced to appear much earlier in the year than it naturally would, rather than scorn it? I asked Mark Diacono, another river cottage alumnus and the writergardener behind otter Farm’s cook/ grow workshops in Devon. compared with‘ the first, characterless, indoor tomatoes of t he season’, he told me, ‘forced rhubarb stands apart, offering much-needed sweetness as we emerge from short, dark days’. In Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle (a few square miles around Morley), plants are cultivated in darkened, heated sheds and harvested by hand, in candle light. the lack of light hinders photosynthesis and forces slim, shocking-pink stems for a result, Diacono says ,‘ every bit as de serving of its Protected Designation of origin status as Parma ham and champagne’.
Which reminds me: rhubarb syrup (simmer 350g chopped forced rhubarb in70gc aster sugar, the juice of one orange and a splash of water until super-soft, then strain) and a splash of gin in a glass of chilled english sparkling wine? Perfect partners.