HERE IT IS, May again: the great glories of strawberries - "Doubtless God could have created a better berry, but God never did" - are being blathered around; and asparagus; and tender new lettuce. But, as usual, rhubard, that Rumpelstiltskin of the plant world, is taking the annual back row in the spring plot. Children don't know its name, let alone its taste. Adults don't know if it's a fruit or vegetable. Can the lovely mauve stalk that was once the hero of so many American victory gardens remain unsung much longer?

No. Herewith, an ode in four parts so the royal herb. But first, we offer a rhubarb ruse for those of you who complain it needs too much sugar. If, when you are using rhubarb, plain or in a recipe, you first blanch it, you need only half as much sugar to bring out its sweetness

When you are steaming rhubarb, cut the stalks in one-inch chunks, use as little water as possible, and simmer gently without stirring until the rhubarb becomes tender (about 25 or 30 minutes." Then dissolve about 1/2 cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb in 1/4 cup hot water and add this to the simmering rhubarb. Steam for another two minutes. It can be served hot or chilled, as is or with cream and sugar, or a lacing of maple syrup. Rhubarb Sherbet

Simmer 4 cups diced rhubarb in 1/2 cup water for five minutes. Add 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind. Bring to a boil, then cool and put in a refrigerator tray. Freeze for one hour until mushy. Turn into a chilled bowl and whip well. Fold in 2 egg whites that have been stiffly beaten with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Return to freezing tray and freeze until solid, stirring occasionally. Rhubarb Strawberry Pie Filling: 1 pint fresh strawberries 1 1/2 pounds fresh rhubarb cut in 1/2-inch strips 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of rhubarb 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 egg, slightly beaten Crust: 1 cup pastry flour, sifted 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup shortening (preferably Crisco) ice water

Sift the flour with the salt and cut in shortening, until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Add a few drops of ice water to moisten if necessary so the dough will hold its shape. Roll enough out to form top and bottom 9-inch crusts.

Mix the filling ingredients together thoroughly and pout into the pie crust. Cover, then seal the crusts with a flour-and-water paste. Slash the crust top. Put in preheated 425 degree oven for 1/2 hour, then reduce to 375 degree for 15 minutes more or until bubbling and slightly brown on top. Serve with whipped cream, or plain. Rhubarb Cheese Pie

Use a standard recipe for cheesecake with sour cream topping, The Joy of Cooking's for example. Cut 3 cups (1 pound) of rhubarb into 2-inch slices. Mix with 1/2 cup sugar and one tablespoon flour. Pour into pie crust and bake at 425 degree for 15 minutes. Then mix the cream cheese filling from your recipe. Pour over the rhubarb and bake at 350 degree for 30 minutes. Spread on sour cream topping and bake as directed. Baked Rhubarb

To serve with lamb

Wash 3 pounds rhubarb. Cut into 1/2-inch slices. Put in a buttered baking dish with the juice of one orange and 3/4 cup of sugar. Bake in a slow (300 degree) over for 30 minutes or until tender.