Pulling out a first few stalks of rhubarb in early May must surely be one of the most delightful things in gardener’s year. There’s nothing more exciting than taking of a rhubarb forcer (in our case an old burning bin) and being rewarded by lush, vividly pink, super-long stalks that almost beg to be eaten raw, just dipped into sugar! Forcing rhubarb is probably not a common thing in Shetland but covering the crowns will encourage the plants to make early growth and these forced stalks make a great substitute for fruit when there is little else available from the garden. In Shetland cooking with rhubarb has a great tradition as it grows really well. In fact so well that a whole recipe book has been devoted to it. Rhubarbaria, written by the late Mary Prior – a frequent visitor to Shetland, is a brilliant and inspiring cookbook of every sort of rhubarb recipe. Rhubarb with meat or fish, vegetables, as a pudding, as a jam or in chutney are all included in this extensive resource. And since my rhubarb plant seems to have established itself quite well over the past couple of years I’m hoping I’ll have enough to keep cropping throughout the summer to be able to try a few recipes from the book. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of a lamb and rhubarb stew! Here’s a recipe for rhubarb schnapps, a delicious, refreshing and seasonably pink drink. 1. Chop the rhubarb finely to expose maximum surface area. Pulsing it a few times in a food processor makes the job much faster. Place in a glass jar add the vanilla pod (cut in half; lenght wise), cover with vodka by approximately an inch or so, seal, and allow to steep a month. Over this time, the flavour and colour will leach out of the rhubarb, leaving the alcohol pink and the rhubarb yellow-white. 2. When the rhubarb has finished steeping, strain it from the alcohol, and filter the solution through several layers of cheesecloth. 3. Measure the final amount of alcohol – this is your base number. In a saucepan, heat 1.5 times that amount of water, and 1/2 – 3/4 that amount of sugar, depending on how sweet you like things. To give an example: 4 cups rhubarb alcohol would need 6 cups of water and 2-3 cups sugar. Let the sugar syrup cool, then add it to your filtered alcohol. 4. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Let age for at least a month before enjoying. Rhubarb schnapps keeps at any temperature, but is especially delicious straight from the freezer. Try adding it to your Cava or Prosecco, just like Kir Royale.