Forcing Rhubarb – the early shoots of Spring

Maddy Harland
Monday, 28th March 2011

Forcing rhubarb is simple and is a great way to add fresh homegrown organic produce to the table during early Spring when the garden is waking up after winter.

There is little food in my garden at this time of year. The coldframes are full of salads – self-seeders and other leaves that have survived the winter snow in their protected environment. There's a few carrots left, spring onions and some cavollo nero and beetroot. We are still eating jams and preserves from last year and there is fruit frozen in the deep freeze, but there is nothing quite like the first rhubarb crop. We celebrate it at Sunday supper when all the family meet and sit down and share food together.

Forcing rhubarb couldn't be easier. If your budget allows you can buy a lovely terracotta forcer hand made by a bespoke potter (in my dreams) but mine never has so I use a humble plastic pot. Just add manure that is still hot around the rhubarb crown when it is just starting to shoot above the ground. Place a pot that covers the small shoots (or two as I have above) and stick a brick on top to secure the (plastic) pot. Leave until you have enough of a crop to cook.

Last Sunday we ate rhubarb crumble. I didn't have enough rhubarb for five eager mouths so I added a couple of eating apples that were looking drab in the fruit bowl and some frozen strawberries from last year's glut that I had forgotten in the freezer.

Rhubarb, Apple & Strawberry Crumble

Take a pot with a lid and fill three quarters full with chopped rhubarb shoots, the apples and two generous handfuls of strawberries (or any other fruit you may have frozen last year!). Add sugar to taste, a good dash of maple syprup and some grated cinnamon (they both help you go as light on the sugar as your family will allow). You can add honey instead of maple syrup.

For the topping

1 cup of porridge oats

1 cup of (wheat) flour though you can use gluten free buckwheat flour instead

a little bit of sugar

some grated nutmeg and cinnamon to taste

sunflower oil or butter (depending on your preference)

Mix up the dry ingredients, add the oil or small nobs of butter slowly until you have a breadcrumb texture. Do not over oil the mix or it will set like biscuit. Add to the top of the fruit. Bake at 180 degrees or gas mark 5 until the top is beginning to brown and the fruit is cooked throught. Serve with your favourite custard, cream or ice cream.