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Deep midwinter sees frosty, biting winds sweep across the countryside. These short dark days can often feel rather bleak, especially when each farm chore feels far more difficult than on lazy, hazy, summer days. A hearty breakfast is all the more important during these challenging times.

Forced rhubarb provides a much needed burst of colour, a balm to the shades of grey, and makes a perfect ingredient to cheer during winter days.

Early forced rhubarb is grown in the dark, in warm sheds from the end of winter and into the beginning of spring. The season is relatively short and so it is vital to make the most of these versatile pink spears while they are in season.

Bottling, in recent times has fallen out of fashion, which is a shame as it is an excellent way to preserve fruit, keeping it closer to its natural state than freezing or jamming.

When days are dark and there is less to do, taking stock and building your larder will stand you in good stead to eat seasonally and stretch our native British produce through the whole year.

Bottled rhubarb makes and excellent companion to a hearty porridge as we have used it here in this delicious recipe, however, you can equally use it dolloped over yoghurt and crunchy granola, or as a topping for fluffy pillowy pancakes.

Ingredients

Method

  • Prepping the fruit

    You can bottle in plain water, however as we are going to use this jar of rhubarb for sweet breakfast indulgence we are going to prepare a syrup.

    Pour the water into a saucepan, then pour in the sugar. Allow the sugar to gently dissolve in the water. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the syrup to the boil and hold at a boil for around 2 of minutes.

    Top and tail the rhubarb and cut into pieces around 2-3cm. Add the chopped rhubarb to a large pan then pour the syrup over the rhubarb. Leave it to soak in overnight so the flavours can gently infuse.

  • How to bottle

    You will need to ensure your bottles are stronger than standard jam jars as they will need to withstand the heating process. We recommend sturdy Kilner mason jars with screw-band lids, which can be found in 250g up to 2 litre jars.

    The jars will need to be sterilised before filling. To do this, place a large pan of cold water on the hob and bring to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully drop the jars into the boiled water. You will need to use tongs to safely remove the jars from the boiled water.

    Using a slotted spoon, lift out the rhubarb from the syrup. Shake and tap the jars to remove as much air as possible and to pack in the pieces of rhubarb. Once all the jars are full of rhubarb pieces, place the pan back onto the hob and bring the syrup to the boil. Pour the syrup back into each jar, filling just below the rim. Add on the lids and ensure they are securely fastened.

    Line a large pot with a tea towel. Turn the lid of each jar by a quarter turn to release it, and arrange them so they don't touch each other, then fill the pot with warm water to cover the lids.

    Slowly bring the water bath up to a gentle simmer, this should take about 20 - 40 minutes. Keep the jars simmering for about 4 minutes.

    Remove the jars from the water bath. Protecting your hands with a tea towel, screw down the lids down firmly. Allow the jars to cool, then they can be stored away in your larder where they will keep in a cool dark place for up to a year.

  • To make the Porridge

    In a medium saucepan, pour in the milk and the oats and bring to a gentle simmer.

    Cook gently, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes until the oats have plumped up and softened completely. Add a dash more milk for your desired consistency.

    Add a pinch of salt and stir through throughly. Spoon the honey into the saucepan and swirl through the porridge.

    Pour the porridge into a bowl, add a dollop of excellent quality yoghurt, on top of this, spoon over the bottled rhubarb. Serve piping hot on cold winter mornings.

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