Wednesday 23 October 2013

Yorkshire's Rhubarb Triangle

The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire, England, is an area famous for the production of early, forced rhubarb which is situated between the towns of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. During the first half of the 20th Century, it covered a wider area of approx 30 square miles, stretching further north and west to the cities of Leeds and Bradford.

The village of Carlton (6 miles south of Leeds) is generally thought of as "the hub of Yorkshire rhubarb growing" with suggestions actually having been made that it changes its name to "Rhubarb". Early each year, Wakefield hosts an annual Rhubarb Festival which draws visitors to the area from far and wide.

The plant has been an important part of the local economy for well over 150 years. Originally grown for local markets, in the early days special rhubarb trains left Wakefield every day, bound for London loaded up with tons of the reddish/pink vegetable.

Rhubarb Origins

Being a native plant of Siberia, is it any wonder that it thrives in the damp, cold winter conditions often found in Yorkshire? The plant has grown wild on the banks of the Volga River for centuries and has been utilised by the Chinese for medicinal use, often being dried and used as a laxative.

It is usually considered to be a vegetable, although a US court decided in 1947 that as it was used as a fruit, it was to be counted as such for the purposes of regulations and duties.

It is more often than not stewed with sugar and made into rhubarb pies or desserts, but it also has its place as a savoury dish and can even be pickled.

So What is Forced Rhubarb?

A Forcing Shed
Forced rhubarb is where the vegetable is grown inside a long, low forcing shed under dark and warm conditions. Traditionally grown by candlelight, it is believed that if you keep very quiet, you can actually hear the rhubarb grow!

Forced rhubarb is considered to be more tender than its cousin grown outdoors in summer. Away from daylight, the leaves grow to a greenish yellow colour and the stalks are bright crimson with a wholly smooth texture. The harvest is generally completed by the end of March.

In February 2010, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was awarded Protection Designation of Origin status (PDO) by the European Commission. An accreditation similar to Champagne, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Stilton Cheese and Parma Ham.

Further Reading

To find out more about the rhubarb growing industry it is suggested you read the article, 'The Story of Rhubarb' written by local historian John Goodchild, included in the book Aspects of Wakefield (Wharncliffe Publishing 1998)