Buying fruit and vegetables during their natural season rewards you with the best flavour and quality. Rhubarb is the exception - it's the 'forced', out-of-season variety that will give your kitchen a rosier glow. Depriving rhubarb of light makes the stems shoot upwards, searching for light, which makes for a more succulent-tasting product. Unlike sturdier outdoor-grown stalks, delicate forced rhubarb has an elegant sourness that needs only very light cooking - but it does need tempering with sweetness.
Look for firm, upright stalks. The leaves, which should not be eaten as they are toxic, will tell you how fresh the rhubarb is. Avoid rhubarb with brown or black leaves.
Douse the stalks in soft brown sugar with some orange zest and bake in a moderate oven, or poach in a thick sugar syrup or orange juice and use in jellies, sorbets or fools. You can also serve forced rhubarb as a slightly sweetened compôte with mackerel, roast pork, venison or sausages.
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