Tom Parker Bowles
PUBLISHED: 13:29 15 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:06 05 April 2013
Tom shines a light on Yorkshire's 'Rhubarb Triangle'
Somewhere, in a candlelit shed in deepest East Yorkshire, there grows a vegetable. But this is no everyday carrot, or run of the mill swede, rather a lithe, limber and rosy-cheeked beauty whose taste is as sweet as her season is short. Because for a mere three cold months, we get to feast on Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, a delicacy so adored that her existence is protected by law.Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is the proud bearer of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, meaning only specimens grown in the famed Rhubarb Triangle between Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds can legally bear this noble name. Its not just the location that makes this so special, but the method of production too. The stalks (or petioles, to use their official moniker) must be harvested by hand, illuminated by only candle light.Now hang about, I hear you say. Candle light? Whats wrong with a good old electric bulb? The answer is simple. Its origin was, in the words of Elaine Lemm in her wonderful Great Book of Rhubarb, a happy accident in Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817. During the winter, workmen accidentally covered some normal rhubarb roots with soil when digging a trench. And when, a few weeks later, the roots were exposed once more, there were a number of tiny, tender, pink shoots with a far superior flavourAnd so an industry was born, first in London, before the whole operation moved up north. Forced rhubarb demands two things for optimum growth water and soil with high nitrogen content. Yorkshires never lacked rain and a thriving woollen industry provided waste, spread on the fields and converted into nutrients.Two to three year old roots were planted in the sheds, after exposure to frost, with no light or food. Without these necessities, the root is forced to grow a shoot, with so much force that you can hear a pop as a stem is forced up. Vast sheds were built and a Rhubarb Express would steam down to London, carrying 200 tonnes a day of this Pink Champagne to London and Europe. But by the mid 60s, the industry was ruined.Now, though, forced rhubarb is back and thriving, thanks to the likes of E H Oldroyd and Sons (yorkshirerhubarb.co.uk). And praise the Lord for that, as it offers a flash of pretty pink, a cheeky blush, in these dull winter months.Last year, I made some magnificent vodka with a bunch of the stuff, mellow with the merest hint of acidity. It helps create a wonderful crumble and fool too (see recipe) and cuts an elegant swathe through fatty pork and rich mackerel when transformed into a sauce.Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb. Its discovery might have been an accident, but its new-found adoration is anything but.
Great name, and beautifully simple to make. Ginger biscuits add wonderful crunch. Soaking them in Kings Ginger liqueur makes it finer still. In summer, use gooseberries or raspberries.
1.5kg forced rhubarb stalks, cut into 4cm lengths
300g caster sugar
Juice and zest of an orange
550ml double cream
Packet of ginger biscuits, crunched up into crumbs
Big splash of King Ginger Liqueur or Stones Ginger wine (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 180C, put rhubarb in casserole and cover with the sugar, orange juice and zest. Put on lid and cook for about 25 minutes (40 for conventional rhubarb), until soft.
2) Allow to cool. Strain juice and reserve, and pick out 12 pieces for decoration and put aside.
3) Puree the remaining rhubarb in food processor.
4) Whip cream into soft peaks, not too firm, then fold in rhubarb puree into cream, along with a few dribbles of reserved juice. Dont mix too manically.
5) Put a layer of crushed biscuits at bottom of small wine glass, then a splash of ginger booze. Spoon fool on top and finish with two pieces of rhubarb.