Every spring I develop a strange obsession. Rhubarb starts to dominate my thoughts and for a few short months, I find myself up early and in the kitchen late, searching for new ways to relish this often-underrated fruit (that is actually a vegetable). Its brash tartness epitomizes all that is delicious and authentic of the season.
Actually, two seasons: first comes forced rhubarb and then, when the weather warms up, field rhubarb. Bill French, who owns Lennox Farm, one of Ontario's largest remaining rhubarb suppliers, explains the difference: "Forced rhubarb is grown in the greenhouse, in the dark, from about March to May. This makes it tender and pink." Field rhubarb is grown outside, he says, and begins to appear in stores around mid-May. It's usually tougher and more sour, but also less expensive.
These recipes, designed to raise humble rhubarb to new heights, work great with either variety. If you find them a little tart, just up the sweetener by a tablespoon or two. But don't overdo it. Part of the pleasure of rhubarb is the pucker.