Blog post by Jenny Dempster
Wakefield is part of the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ – an area of West Yorkshire that has grown the best quality forced rhubarb for hundreds of years.
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable although its thick pink stalks are treated as a fruit, even with their tart flavour. It can be grown in two crops, the first of which arrives early in the year, known as ‘forced’ rhubarb, and can often be found around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. Forced rhubarb is produced by deliberately excluding light and increasing the temperature in late winter resulting in a sweet, light pink and tender crop. The second, called maincrop rhubarb, is grown outdoors and arrives in spring usually with deep red stalks and bright green leaves.
The rhubarb rave picked up pace around the eighteenth century when overseas colonies made sugar more readily available. The Victorians became particularly fond of the vegetable inventing both the rhubarb crumble and fool. It is thought the plant originally found its way to the UK after several species of Rheum (around 60 perennial plants in the family Polygonaceae) filtered through to Europe in the Middle Ages from China, with one ‘R. rhabarbarum’ being found to have edible stems.
Today, growing rhubarb is easy. Tough and unfussy, the plant performs best in rich, well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot – but try to avoid picking in the first year and only lightly in the second to allow the rhubarb to establish itself properly. After that, stalks can be harvested from April by grasping at the base and pulling with a little twist. Warning – don’t eat the leaves as they are pretty poisonous.
Loads more info and taste tests galore at this month’s Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb, in Wakefield from 17-19th February.
The festival showcases local food and drink providers and celebrates this districts unique tradition of rhubarb growing – and its importance to the local economy. There’s an exciting mix of live cookery demonstrations, street entertainment and workshops.
View a whole heap of delicious recipes using rhubarb on the Experience Wakefield website here: http://www.experiencewakefield.co.uk/events/RhubarbRecipes.aspx