Rhubarb is categorized in cooking as a fruit but is, in fact, the leaf stem of the rhubarb plant. Rhubarb stems grow to between 10- and 14-inches in length and from I- to 1-inch in diameter. In colour they vary from pale pink to red, although there are some green-stemmed varieties.

Rhubarb, when grown naturally, is available in early summer; force-grown rhubarb is available in late winter/early spring.

To prepare rhubarb, remove and discard the leaves (they contain oxalic acid which is very poisonous). Remove and discard the stem base and cut the stem into 2- to 3-inch lengths. If the rhubarb is very large and coarse, the outer skin should also be removed and discarded.

To cook rhubarb, place 1 pound of rhubarb in a medium-sized saucepan. Pour over 2 fluid ounces of water and place the pan over moderately high heat. Bring the water to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer the rhubarb for 20 to 30 minutes or until it is tender. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in sugar to taste. Rhubarb may be flavoured by the addition of a little lemon rind or juice, root or ground ginger or elder-flowers.

Rhubarb may be served on its own with CREME A LA VANILLE or in fools, steamed or baked puddings, compotes and jams.

Rhubarb is also preserved successfully by .

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