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Force rhubarb

Force rhubarb

Force rhubarb any time from January onwards for the very earliest fruit in the garden – and one of the best. Forcing (excluding light from growing stems) encourages shoots to grow much earlier than they usually would, sending up growth that's very tender, delicate and sweet.

Start any time between late December until early February by covering the whole crown so that no light can get to the emerging stems. Traditional terracotta forcing jars look lovely and are available from your favourite garden centre, or you can use a large black bucket or dustbin, upended over the top and weighted with a brick to prevent it blowing over.

Many people pack straw or even stable manure around the outside to keep things even more warm and cosy underneath. This speeds up the process a little, but you'll get equally good results without.

In about eight weeks your stems will be ready to pick – that's early March, a good month before ordinary rhubarb. Harvest at about 20-30cm long, pulling them by hand rather than cutting them to make sure there's no stub left to rot down into the crown. Enjoy the delicate flavour of the pale pink stems at their best cooked briefly and served with fresh cream.