Comes From: England
Seasonality: January - February
Forced rhubarb is one of the few fruits that is still grown seasonally, and in the way it was grown many year ago. Forcing rhubarb is an odd process, which requires subjecting the plant to both darkness and heat; searching for light causes the tender shoots to grow rapidly. Rhubarb is grown in one of the strangest conditions; it is grown in low-height long sheds, in total darkness, with teams of people harvesting the rhubarb by hand, by candlelight. The result is the almost viciously pink shoots, providing probably the only colour excitement of the month.
The British rhubarb industry is located in a tiny area of West Yorkshire, called the "Wakefield Triangle". A number of factors caused the industry to concentrate here; favourable weather, heavy soils, good availability of coal for heat, and good transport infrastructure all contribute. The cold weather in autumn chills the roots of the rhubarb, so they can be dug up in mid-November and replanted into the sheds, ready for forcing.
In the middle of the last century, the rhubarb industry was of huge importance; a dedicated "rhubarb express" train carried hundreds of tones of rhubarb down to the south of the country. Today, the industry is much smaller; it has no trains of its own. Rhubarb isn't as popular as it once was, due to the ready availability of exotic fruit, and the expense of the labour-intensive growing and harvesting process. This is a shame; many recipes exist, such as Rhubarb Fool or Rhubarb Crumble which are simply delicious. A much overlooked fruit, rhubarb shouldn't be passed upon, particularly not tender forced rhubarb.
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