january onwards for me as a pastry chef signals the first height of the forced rhubarb season. During the dark days of winter Rhubarb is “forced” in sheds, mainly in Yorkshire. The process of “forcing” was started in the UK in the early 1800’s. The rhubarb is started off in the fields, mainly left for a couple of years- the rhubarb needs this time to store the energy of the sun as sugar through its leaves down to its roots (get me with the science bit). It’s kick started by being exposed to frost then planted in forcing sheds, where its kept in the dark and starts to grow, rapidly, looking for light. The leaves are a really pale green and forced rhubarb’s stalks are tender & a pinky crimson, and much sweeter then plants grown in the summer outside.
Legend has it that if you stand outside a forcing shed you can hear the rhubarb creaking as it grows rapidly in a desperate search for light, which I think is just creepy : making you feel a tad sorry for it.
You don’t need to have a spare shed to force your own rhubarb, you can buy marvelous forcing pots, which have been around since the victorians started doing clever things. You can get them quite easily if you search online. And when not in use they look great as garden ornaments.
The forced rhubarb season ends from April…and the outdoor grown variety starts to appear in the shops, which is much tougher and has darker greener stalks, & you have to peel it unlike forced rhubarb. I love getting my first batch of rhubarb at work in January, its the first sign of things to come and finally I can stop thinking up recipes to make with bloomin’ apples and pears that have seen me through most of the winter 😉
RHUBARB FACTS !
Rhubarb has been cultivated for medicinal purposes in China for centuries
The type of rhubarb cultivated in Europe is mainly derived from a native species from russia that grows along the Volga
At one point during the 1940’s 90% of the worlds rhubarb was grown in west Yorkshire in what is known as the Rhubarb Triangle. Forced Yorkshire rhubarb has now got European protection as a brand which was granted in 2010.
Rhubarb grown in the Yorkshire sheds is said to be harvested at night by candle light, so as not to expose it to daylight, interrupting its spurt of growth.
Rhubarb was generally known as a veggie until the Americans had it classified as a fruit in the 1940’s,
The word Rhubarb is reportedly muttered by actors to emulate inaudible background mumbling conversations in plays & films, it’s chosen because it has no harsh sounding consonants apparently, so they continuously say “Rhubarb, Rhubarb” to each other. This has been going on since the mid 1800’s…well I never !
Rhubarb was also the name of a wobbly animated cartoon dog in the 1970’s ( though it was spelt “Roobarb” I have to admit )
Everyone has had a bit of rhubarb crumble at some point in their lives. I remember it from school dinners, stewed to death looking like pond sludge and served with custard. Thankfully we have moved on since then, it is lovely lightly poached, or roasted in the oven so it braises in its own juice, with added ginger and orange.
Spice up your love life by chasing your other half around the kitchen, lightly spanking them with the wet leaves (it has more give then celery ) 😉
My favourite method is roasting, you can do this and store it in the fridge for a few weeks in a jar, serving it with ice cream or yogurt. Follow the picture gallery below on this method, and keep it mind as I will be putting up a few recipes you can use it with soon…including a rather nice tart 🙂
1kg of fresh rhubarb ( washed )
2 teaspoons of fresh ground ginger or 100g fresh ginger, grated.
© The cake-shaker 2011