Saturday, 8 March 2008

Rhubarb, rhubarb


Whenever we visit my Brother-in-law, we enter a part of Britain mysteriously known as The Rhubarb Triangle. Luckily, this area of Yorkshire doesn't have the same characteristics as the Bermuda variety, so we usually emerge relatively unscathed at the end of our visits to wend our way back to Wiltshire again.

The Rhubarb Triangle is an area bounded by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. It's the ideal area for rhubarb growing as it lies in a frost pocket east of the Pennines. This ensures plenty of frosty nights to break the rhubarb's dormancy in time for digging the crowns up and placing them in large forcing sheds in November/December. In complete darkness, the plant produces lashings of tender pink sticks ready for eating from January through to March. Radio 4's The Food Programme did a piece on this a few years ago and I was surprised by the frequent popping noises when the presenter entered the forcing shed - you can hear the rhubarb growing! Many generations of producers were involved in commercial rhubarb growing. Sadly, lots of these fell by the wayside after WWII as our tastes became more wider ranging and thus rhubarb's popularity declined. The most prominent survivor is Olroyd's, who have a terrific website taking you through their traditions, including harvesting the rhubarb by candlelight. Today, it's becoming popular again, thanks to our celebrity chefs and initiatives such as the annual Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb - last day today.

Rhubarb was one of the first things I planted on my allotment 4 years ago. By planting it, I felt I was paying homage to the generations of allotment holders before me and also reviving my childhood memories of being given a stick of rhubarb to eat with a small bag of sugar to dip it in. This was considered a treat! I've learnt that the forcing experiment I started in January, isn't strictly speaking forcing. I'm actually blanching my rhubarb as unlike the beetroot, I didn't dig it up. The variety I grow is Victoria - as it's a late variety, this may explain why my blanching's not going that well at the moment (see picture - the crown being blanched is under the straw. It's slightly pinker, taller and fresher looking than the unblanched area). Next time, I'll try something like Timperley Early or Stockbridge Arrow. Fittingly, the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire holds the Rhubarb National Collection with 130 taxa.

If all of this rhubarb talk has made you a little peckish, you may like to hop along over here for some recipes. Personally, I like my rhubarb simple - stewed with a little brown sugar, served with lots of creamy organic natural yoghurt.

This is my latest Celebrating Regionality article - click on the Regionality Label below to see the full range.

Update: Philip Voice over at Landscape Juice also wrote about rhubarb yesterday. I covet the traditional forcers shown in his Forcing Rhubarb link.

2nd Update: I picked the first rhubarb on 16th March (25th April last year) and it was utterly delicious with custard :D

7 comments:

  1. I have only one thing to say,

    Rhubarb Crumble.

    Not the stuff we used to get at school but lovely fresh picked rhubarb, stewed with honey or brown sugar and a toasted oat crumble, served with custard or single cream.

    All I need now is for my rhubarb to grow!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi

    Let me have your email address by leaving it as a comment on my blog. I'll then not publish it, so no-one will ever see it.

    GM

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've never been keen on rhubarb so I won't be growing it on the plot. As it is several neighbours have all said to help myself to a stick or two of theirs when it grows.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There was a snippet about Oldroyds on televison earlier this week. The forcing sheds look fascinating. I would love to visit.
    My own rhubarb on the allotment is coming on nicely now. Looking forward to the first picking.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love rhubarb and grow it in my veggie garden. I have a forcing pot too but I can't use it yet as my rhubarb is too young for that. But I can use it next year!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh dnd - that is far too tempting!

    GM - done!

    Flighty - I'm surprised you weren't deluged with offers of rhubarb crowns instead of just sticks of it!

    Anna - Olroyd's is fascinating. I'm hoping we'll get to go when we visit my BIL sometime. In the meantime, let's enjoy our rhubarb!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oops Yolanda - sorry I missed you there. I'm jealous of your forcing pot - it's just such a pleasing object isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...