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Winter reigns malevolently over us all in deep dark January. The nights are still long and the mornings frozen over. But there is one little vegetable who loves the darkness…Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb. A native of Siberia, China and the Himalayas, this much anticipated seasonal treat was discovered by accident.
Until the 19th century, rhubarb was only grown outside. However in 1817 a handful of rhubarb roots were accidentally covered in soil at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Their pink tips were spotted peering out of the ground a few weeks later, and were thankfully someone cooked them up. This stray sample revealed that rhubarb grown without natural light tastes sweeter and more delicate than its sun-kissed sister, because the plant cannot produce chlorophyll. Chlorophyll results in a bitter flavour which spoils the bright sweetness of rhubarb.
Since that happy accident, growing rhubarb in the darkness has become a sacred art. Across the land, but particularly in Yorkshire, rhubarb is 'forced' in sheds, lit only by candlelight. The rosy vegetable is said to grow so fast, shooting up in its quest for light, that you can hear it crackle.
Pioneers in the North of England took the practice of 'forcing' to heightened levels in 2010 when they campaigned for Protected Destination of Origin status for Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb. Now, only rhubarb grown in the Rhubarb Triangle, an area spanning Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford can claim the esteemed title.
The area now holds its own Rhubarb Festival every February. This year's dates are the 21st-23rd.
So what are you waiting for? The Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb season is woefully short, running from early January to late February. Pick up some while you can and experiment with its potent tartness in sweet and savoury dishes! Here's a nice recipe to get you going...it's going to be a bumper crop this year so no excuses!