Forced rhubarb brings an early tang of summer

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - The Cut - Amy Bryant

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.

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