When I was growing up in the US, people sometimes spoke of rhubarb – they seemed mildly amused by the word – but no one I knew ever ate it. I don’t think I’d ever really seen any until I came to the UK, where – from my point of view, at least – people got a little too excited about the annual arrival of this pink dessert celery.
Rhubarb is a vegetable masquerading as fruit, and as such requires a bit of sugar to make it palatable. But not too much: the tartness of rhubarb is the whole point. I was converted to it through its two most traditional incarnations: rhubarb fool and rhubarb crumble. Sometimes, the former is made with custard, but I prefer Felicity Cloake’s straight double cream version, with just a little added yoghurt, not least because it’s easier. Her perfect crumble is similarly unassailable. And custard is very much required.
Steady with the sugar … rhubarb upside-down cake. Photograph: Tribune Content Agency LLC/Alamy
But these are by no means the only two options. Rhubarb is versatile and plentiful, and we are now just moving from the pale pink rhubarb of winter – forced in dark sheds – to the first outdoor crop. Some people prefer forced (it’s sweeter and more tender), and others prize the tougher, less pink stuff…