Just like Champagne and Parma Ham, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb has European PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status. As such, this traditionally grown vegetable is celebrated annually in its place of origin at the heart of the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle. You might note I said ‘vegetable’. Though traditionally a sweetened desert, Rhubarb is designated as a vegetable in the UK. A court ruling in 1947 controversially classified it as a fruit in the USA. A contentious little plant!
Forget sour, stringy, green stalks or petioles as they are correctly called. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is a slender, delicate, fuchsia treat, a sweet sherberty taste with a melt in the mouth texture.
The Rhubarb Triangle covers just 9 square miles. The triangle’s three corners are Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell and this little pocket of land fortuitously provides exactly what the rhubarb needs. This is
• Deep frost
• Heavy rain and run off water from the West Yorkshire Moors
• A unique source of nitrogen in the form of Shoddy. Shoddy is a by-product from the woollen industry, once a corner stone of West Yorkshire. The waste woollen fibres are spread around the precious plants and as the fibres slowly break down, they release nitrogen. Nitrogen is a superfood for rhubarb.
At the annual festival to celebrate this match made in heaven, rhubarb will be served in every conceivable form – sweet and savoury. Relishes, chutneys and sauces accompany everything from mackerel to duck. Perhaps a cocktail, spirit, cordial or pressé? Or sweet treats might tempt your tastebuds. For traditionalists you could do worse than take your rhubarb stewed (very little sugar required with this premium delicacy) and served with lashings of custard.
There is also the opportunity to see behind the scenes and visit the hallowed forcing sheds. As you arrive at Oldroyd’s Rhubarb Farm in Carlton, the imposing, barn-like, windowless structures give little away with regard to the mysteries within. Janet Oldroyd is a 5th generation rhubarb farmer. She presents a detailed and fascinating history, not only of the plant (native to Siberia), but of the heyday of the Rhubarb Triangle itself. The ‘Rhubarb Express’ train carried up to 200 tons of rhubarb to the markets of London every night during the short growing season. This provided a living for around 200 growers.
You are then invited into the forcing sheds. The rhubarb crowns are lifted from the fields after the first frosts. They are planted in the warmed, darkened hanger like structures lit only by flickering candle light. Now deprived of food and light, the root is forced to grow stalks and leaves. A process that happens so quickly, you will be encouraged to stand in silence in the sheds and strain your ears to hear the squeaks and pops of growing rhubarb.
Come and hear the Rhubarb growing for yourself this year. One of Yorkshire’s Blue Badge Tourist Guides would be more than happy to help you plan your trip and show you the mysterious world of one of Yorkshire’s secret treasures.
Wakefield’s Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb
17th – 19th February 2017
E Oldroyd and Sons Farm for Tours of the Forcing Sheds