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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 05:41 GMT
Entering the rhubarb triangle
By Sallie George
BBC News

After years of being shunned from dinner tables or confined to the traditional crumble, rhubarb is enjoying something of a resurgence in favour in homes across England.

Forced rhubarb is grown in darkness and harvested by candlelight
For a small cluster of growers in the Yorkshire "rhubarb triangle", it has become big business again after years of turmoil which left many farmers bankrupt.

A festival devoted to food, drink and rhubarb is now held in Wakefield every year.

At Hopefield Farm in Leeds about 200 tonnes of forced indoor rhubarb will be produced this year, in addition to 800 tonnes of rhubarb grown outdoors.

Grown in pitch-black sheds and harvested by hand in candlelight, rhubarb grown indoors is generally considered to be sweeter in taste than its outdoor variety.

There was a whole generation who grew up detesting rhubarb
Janet Oldroyd

Janet Oldroyd, director of the farm, is the fourth generation of a family of rhubarb growers and is an expert on the history of the forcing process.

She said: "Rhubarb is very popular now and I don't think that is going to go away.

"We now know the health benefits of rhubarb - it is a super food for weight loss so features on a lot of diets.

"Also, people used to have a really sweet tooth but now we like a bit of sharpness."

In its heyday the area known as the "rhubarb triangle", between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, boasted about 200 farmers and was recognised as the world's centre for growing the fruit.

Janet Oldroyd is a fourth-generation rhubarb grower
The forcing process was discovered by chance in the early 19th Century, but it was Yorkshire which became the first place in the world to build special sheds to grow it in 1877.

Popularity grew over the years and hundreds of tons of rhubarb were regularly taken on the "rhubarb express" train to markets in London.

During World War II, the government curbed the price of the fruit to make it more affordable to the masses.

Mrs Oldroyd said: "You could buy a pound of rhubarb for just a shilling.

"Huge amounts were grown to feed the troops and everybody grew rhubarb in their garden.

"You could say it was overexposed."

But the advent of refrigerated delivery dealt a severe blow to growers, who saw the fruit fall out of favour with the mass market.

A food, drink and rhubarb festival is held in Wakefield every year
Mrs Oldroyd said: "There was a whole generation who grew up detesting the product.

"When refrigerated transport started to be used, rhubarb started to get left on the shelves.

"Many growers went bankrupt, many got out before they did. The whole industry went into turmoil."

Now, there are just 12 growers left in the triangle.

The group is currently waiting on a decision on an application for Protected Designation of Origin status for their crop, to allow them to officially name their product "traditionally grown Yorkshire rhubarb".

Hopefield Farm now supplies rhubarb to many major supermarket chains and regularly hosts tours of the farm, explaining to tourists from as far away as Japan the secrets of the rhubarb triangle.

Mrs Oldroyd said: "It was a British process, a British discovery and something we must be proud of."

City hosting Festival of Rhubarb
03 Feb 05 |  West Yorkshire

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