Food writer Jenny Jefferies writes about the wonders of rhubarb in her column this month.

The month of May is akin to a crossroads between a wet, potholed filled Spring and the aspiration of a secure and wishful Summer.

The blight of beige food complete with wintery and comforting carbohydrates from potatoes, bread and porridge can now be accompanied by the dawn of colourful, shiny and optimistic seasonal fruit and vegetables like rhubarb. Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb! 

The delicious vision of the iconic Rhubarb and Vanilla Traybake as featured on the front cover of The Sweet Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer never fails to lift my heart. Like sweet and sour sticks of Brighton Rock set in a really pleasing asymmetric design not dissimilar to Manuel Canovas’ wallpaper. 

Forced rhubarb involves preventing light from reaching the crowns of the rhubarb plants, so this process, in time, triggers the production of the stalks perfect for cooking. Forced rhubarb is softer and sweeter than rhubarb harvested in early summer. 

Janet Oldroyd Hulme of E. Oldroyd & Sons says in For The Love Of The Land II “I am as determined as ever, together with my sons, to ensure the future of Yorkshire forced rhubarb and the industry producing it by keeping costs affordable and raising its profile.

We may not have been among the first families to force rhubarb in 1877 but we are one of the remaining 11 growers in the historic rhubarb triangle, where there were initially over 200. Our hard work aims to prevent all of us from being the very last of these skilled farmers.”

Please enjoy ‘Janet’s Recipe For Rhubarb Panna Cotta’ as featured in For The Love Of The Land II. Janet continues “You will require six glass dishes for this recipe, which makes the pink and cream colours look delightful. I prefer to leave the panna cotta in the dishes, preventing any mishaps when serving. If you do want to turn them out, don’t forget to grease the dishes beforehand.”

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Ely Standard: Rhubarb Panna Cotta by Janet  Oldroyd Hulme of E. Oldroyd & Sons as featured in For The Love Of The Land II by Jenny Jefferies @jennyljefferies.Rhubarb Panna Cotta by Janet  Oldroyd Hulme of E. Oldroyd & Sons as featured in For The Love Of The Land II by Jenny Jefferies @jennyljefferies. (Image: Jenny Jefferies)

Janet's Rhubarb Panna Cotta 

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus requires chilling overnight. Cooking Time: 30 minutes. Serves six.


For the panna cotta

six sheets of leaf gelatine

600ml (1 pint) single cream

300ml (10fl oz) double cream

85g (3oz) caster sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

For the rhubarb topping

2 sheets of leaf gelatine

800g forced rhubarb

85ml (3fl oz) pure orange juice

85g (3oz) caster sugar

Mint sprigs or edible flowers, to garnish


For the panna cotta

Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes until soft. Meanwhile, combine the creams and sugar for the panna cotta in a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the heat just as it starts to boil.

Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, squeezing gently to remove excess liquid, then add them to the warm cream and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla extract, then pour the mixture into a large jug (this makes it easier to fill the dishes). Pour the panna cotta mixture carefully into your 6 glass dishes, leaving enough room for the rhubarb topping.

Allow to cool for around 30 minutes before covering with cling film and chilling the dishes in the fridge overnight. The panna cotta should be set and firm to the touch.

For the rhubarb topping

Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes until soft. Meanwhile, wipe the rhubarb with damp kitchen roll to clean it and then cut into small chunks. If you’re making this in summer, use 400g of outdoor rhubarb and 400g of hulled and sliced British strawberries for great colour and a lovely tangy flavour.

In a pan, combine the orange juice (for a special occasion, try replacing this with sparkling wine) with the sugar and then add the rhubarb chunks. Simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is cooked, then squeeze out the soaked gelatine leaves and stir them into the pan until completely dissolved.

Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Once the panna cotta has set firm, carefully spoon over the cooled rhubarb mixture and smooth out. Finish with sprig of fresh mint or edible flower placed on top before serving.