It is time to say goodbye to the apples and pears that have carried us through winter – but thankfully rhubarb has arrived to tide us over until a wider selection of fruit becomes available in the latter part of spring.

Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but its high acid content makes it work better in sweet rather than savoury dishes. Warmed and balanced by the addition of sugar and vanilla, it loses much of the sharp taste that can make it a little unpalatable.

At this time of year, it is forced rhubarb that is available to us: paler, softer and more delicate in flavour than the more fibrous variant that comes later in the year – and it is the one that I prefer. Simply poached or lightly roasted, it is wonderful with vanilla ice-cream, baked custard or rice pudding. Try flavouring it with a little rosewater or sparkling wine; its delicate flavours allow for a little added perfume.

In the Middle East, rhubarb is often finely sliced and added to salads – it is very good accompanied by pomegranate seeds and feta. Occasionally at work we slow-cook pork shoulder, roast a little rhubarb and stir it in towards the end of cooking – its acidity helps to cut through the rich flavour of the meat

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Rhubarb and pink grapefruit jam

This jam is citrussy and sharp – delicious in a Bakewell tart or with toasted sourdough and salty butter for breakfast.

Makes enough for four 250g/8oz jam jars

1kg/2lb rhubarb
3 pink grapefruit
1kg/2lb caster sugar

Wash and pat dry the rhubarb. Cut roughly into 2cm lengths. Peel the zest from the pink grapefruit (easiest with a potato peeler) and chop finely. Now slice the grapefruit itself into halves and squeeze out the juice. Put the chopped rhubarb, grapefruit zest and juice into a heavy bottomed stainless-steel pan. Pour in the caster sugar, combine and allow to macerate for 20 minutes. Next, place over a high heat and bring to a vigorous boil.

Keep the heat high – the jam should bubble thickly. Stir frequently to prevent it from catching and burning on the base of the pan. Splash off any foam from the surface.

The best way to check whether a jam has set is to place an empty plate in the fridge and leave it there to chill for about 20 minutes. When it's cold, remove it and place small spoonfuls of jam on it. This allows the jam to cool quickly so you can check its consistency. Ideally, it should be runny but not too thick as to be cloying. For this jam, 20 minutes' cooking time should be sufficient.

Spoon the jam into four sterilised jam jars and leave to cool completely. Then put in the fridge until ready to use.

Slow-cooked shoulder of pork with braised celery and rhubarb

Slow-cooked dishes are warm and deeply satisfying at this time of year. Shoulder of pork is lovely cooked this way. Although fattier than the leg, it is sweeter; the sharp bite of the rhubarb balances its richness.

Serves 6-8

For the pork

2tbsp unsalted butter
2tbsp olive oil
1 pork shoulder
Sea salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 small bunch of sage leaves
2 dried chillies
1tbsp of quality white-wine vinegar, such as Volpaia
300ml/10fl oz white wine
350ml/12fl oz milk

For the braised celery and rhubarb

1 bunch of English celery (white heart only)
500g/1lb rhubarb
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1tsp coriander seeds
2 fresh bay leaves
150ml/5fl oz chicken stock
Sea salt and black pepper

For the pork, heat the butter and oil in a pan with a lid. Season the meat generously all over. Put the pork in the pan and brown well; pour off any excess fat. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, sage, chilli, vinegar, wine and milk. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to very low. Place the lid on the pan at an angle so steam can escape, and cook for three hours. Check periodically.

The pork is cooked when it is tender enough to be eaten with a spoon. Remove to a serving plate and turn the heat up to reduce the remaining sauce to a third – it should be rich in flavour and very satisfying. Season if necessary.

While the pork is cooking, prepare the braised celery and rhubarb. Wash and dry and cut both into 5cm shards. Pour the olive oil into a pan and place over a medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, rhubarb, celery, bay leaves and chicken stock, and season. Bring to a simmer and turn down the heat to poach until the rhubarb and celery are tender – it should take no longer than 10 minutes.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl and keep warm. Bring the remaining liquid to a vigorous boil and reduce to a third.

To serve, pour the meat reduction over the pork, pour the vegetable reduction over the warm vegetables you have set aside in the bowl, and serve alongside each other.

Winter rhubarb ice-cream

Serves 8

For the custard base

150ml/5fl oz whole milk
450ml/16fl oz double cream
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
6 egg yolks
120g/4oz caster sugar

For the rhubarb

1kg/2lb rhubarb
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
180g/6oz caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz water or verjuice

For the custard, pour the milk and cream into a pan and place over a low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add them. Bring to just under a boil, remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse. Now whisk the yolks and sugar in a bowl for five minutes, until the mix becomes thick and pale. Gently reheat the creamy milk and pour it on the egg-yolk mix, stirring with the whisk. Return to the pan and place over a low heat, stirring gently until the custard thickens – about eight minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and allow to cool.

Wash and trim the rhubarb into 5cm chunks. Put in a pan with the vanilla pod, sugar and water or verjuice. Place over a low heat and stir gently. Bring to a simmer then turn down and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should be soft but not completely falling apart. Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and reduce the remaining liquid by half. Pour over the rhubarb and allow to cool.

Once the custard has cooled, pour into an ice-cream maker; follow the manufacturer's instructions. Just before it sets, pour in the rhubarb and churn for 10 minutes.