Bright pink, early rhubarb is tender and considered to be superior in quality and flavor to the later maincrop rhubarb, which is reddish-green in color, is far tougher and has a stronger flavor. As the stems are so tender, early rhubarb does not require stringing: simply cut off the leaves and the root end of each stalk, then wash them and cut into pieces ready for cooking. Maincrop rhubarb often has a stringy covering that is best peeled and discarded.
Rhubarb is a cool weather crop available in the winter months, and is produced using horticultural techniques that have hardly changed since Victorian times. Harvesting is done by hand.
When buying rhubarb at any time look for firm, bright stems and avoid those that are clearly limp, bruised or split. The part of the plant that is edible is the leaf stem (rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit) and when it is limp, it can be refreshed by standing the stems, root end down, in a jug of cold water.
It is imperative that you always remove and discard the leaves from rhubarb. They must not be eaten as they contain oxalic acid and are extremely poisonous.
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