Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) is an out of season rhubarb that is first grown outside for a period of two years, so that the exposure to frost toughens the roots.
They are then lifted from the ground and placed into the forcing sheds. They must have this exposure to frost if they are to continue to grow inside the shed. Once in the darkened sheds heat is applied, so the rhubarb grows quickly in its search for light. They are harvested by candle light to maintain the tenderness of the shoots and ensure that growth continues. If the crowns are exposed to too much light they will cease to grow. Photosynthesis will also occur, which results in result a bitter flavour.
This process results in rhubarb that is seen as sweeter and more delicately flavoured that normal, with an especially vivid colour. Its flavour is however seen as brighter than the faster growing rhubarb found in countries such as Holland. In terms of colour the inside of the stem is a bright white, with the outside a vibrant blood red. The sticks are harvested by hand due to the fact careless harvesting can result in the other crowns rotting due to botrytis. After the rhubarb is harvested the crowns are composted, ensuring a more sustainable production.
West Yorkshire once produced 90% of the world’s winter forced rhubarb from the forcing sheds that were common across the fields in the area. In 1877 the forcing of rhubarb began in Yorkshire, the first place in the world to construct special forcing sheds. Cheap coal from local mines heated the forcing sheds which helped to produce rhubarb early in the year when fresh fruit was scarce.
In the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, many small fields which had been used to grow rhubarb were sold for building houses, as they were very close to urban areas. Statistics show that in 1966 there were 1022 acres of rhubarb in this district, but by 1980 this had fallen to 422 acres, and since then it has fallen even further. In the Rhubarb Triangle there are now only around 12 growers of this unique vegetable which is served as a dessert.