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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 13:26 GMT
Just what is Yorkshire forced indoor rhubarb?
The Magazine answers...

Janet Oldroyd poses with precious stalks
Grower Janet Oldroyd is pushing for the recognition

It's grown in sheds, harvested by candelight and is in the running for protected EU status, but what exactly is Yorkshire forced indoor rhubarb?

Pink or scarlet, with white flesh, sweet and fragrant in taste, indoor rhubarb is a long-way from the sour, tough, stringy ingredient of the dismal crumbles handed out to recalcitrant public schoolboys of yore.

Now one of Yorkshire's biggest growers is attempting to get Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from the EU for the dozen producers across the region.

If successful, Yorkshire indoor rhubarb would join a prestigious list that includes Parma ham, Normandy Camembert and Newcastle Brown Ale. PDO status prevents foreign impostors claiming to be the real thing.

Take 400g indoor rhubarb
Place in pan
Submerge with orange juice
Simmer until soft
Eat with yoghurt

Janet Oldroyd, who is making the application, says the 12 producers in the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle - between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield - will face a struggle to survive without EU recognition.

"It will help the growers. It ensures we've got a future."

After World War II, there were 200 growers, but competition from exotic foreign fruit, an increasingly sweet national tooth and confusion with the less pleasant outdoor variety badly affected its indoor cousin.

Now rhubarb generally is enjoying a resurgence, but the growers are concerned about competition from inferior Dutch indoor rhubarb.

"Members of the public come to me, complaining they couldn't source any British rhubarb. They say it tastes better than the Dutch rhubarb," Mrs Oldroyd adds.

"The flavour is much sweeter, more delicate, it is a real deep blood red."

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The forcing process sees rhubarb roots cultivated outdoors for two years before being moved into special sheds for growth in the darkness. On the Oldroyd farm in Crofton it is harvested by candlelight, with each stalk wrapped in plastic to prevent damage to the precious crop.

"You have got to keep it dark for the flavour. Dim candlelight is perfect."

Varieties include Temperley, Stockbridge Arrow and Queen Victoria.

Rhubarb, which was first referred to in 2700 BC and brought to Europe by Marco Polo, was used as a medicinal product for centuries before it made its crumble debut.

It was used to treat stomach, lung and liver complaints, Mrs Oldroyd says. But in 1817, the forcing process was discovered, and by 1877 indoor rhubarb had reached Yorkshire and was a culinary favourite across the nation.

Modena balsamic vinegar
Parma ham
Newcastle brown ale
Kalamata olives
Roquefort cheese
Arbroath smokies

But the shortage of sugar during World War II and the consequently tart taste of the rhubarb put a generation off.

"Memories of lumpy custard and green rhubarb crumble helped to turn a nation away."

Now rhubarb's high calcium content and popularity among slimmers as a metabolism booster have put it back on the culinary map.

"I consider rhubarb crumble to be the finest British pudding going," is the verdict of celebrity chef Rick Stein.

Yorkshire's growers hope the EU agrees.

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