Best of British
Living in such a fantastic foodie region makes it extremely easy to make use of fantastic locally sourced produce in the majority of my recipes. The South West is one of the leading food regions with a particular consciousness not only of the importance of high-quality produce but the ethical implications that come with growing, cultivating and rearing produce for the food industry. For that I am truly grateful of where I live.
Having said this, Britain as a whole has long had a strong relationship with food production. As an Island that has a long history of fending for itself in true British spirit, our insatiable appetite to grow and rear some of the worlds best produce is something we continue to do to this day.
Many regions up and down the UK have a particular association with a distinctive food product that has strong associations with its origins. British products such as Melton Mowbray Pies, Cornish Pasties and the Bakewell tart, have all been awarded a Protected Designation of Origin certification that ensures the authenticity of these locally produced products. This is also the case for Yorkshire Rhubarb.
Clearly stated in the name, Yorkshire Rhubarb can only be called Yorkshire Rhubarb if it has been grown in what is called the Rhubarb Triangle. Situated in a 9 mile triangular parameter in West Yorkshire, this designated area known for the early production of forced rhubarb stretches between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell.
Although native to Serbia, rhubarb found perfect growing conditions in the cold, and often wet climate of Yorkshire in which it has been carefully cultivated since the early 18th Century. Unlike main crop rhubarb that comes into season later in the year, forced rhubarb springs into season from January. Grown under strict conditions, forced rhubarb is much more tender, but has somewhat of a sharper edge when it comes to flavour.
Interestingly, this species of rhubarb is initially grown in rich, nutritious soil outside, exposed to the harsh elements – this is said to help the growth of carbohydrates. It is these carbohydrates that are essential to the subsequent process. After first frost, the rhubarb is carefully transferred to dark, insulated barns, and it is in the warmth of these barns that the carbohydrates are turned to glucose – and it is this that gives forced rhubarb its distinct sweet and sour flavours as well as tenderness.
This contrast in acidity makes forced rhubarb the perfect match to blood oranges – also in season this time of year. Continuing on with the theme of food products and their strong geographical associations, I have developed a recipe that adds an interesting seasonal twist to the bakewell tart; Rhubarb and blood orange ‘bakewell’ slices. With a delicious crisp base and sweet almondy frangipane, the sharpness from the rhubarb, and freshness introduced by the orange makes for a vibrant and fruity bake.
Not got a sweet tooth?! Try using forced rhubarb in savoury dishes too. Its sharpness is perfect for cutting through the richness of meats such as duck and woody game birds. Stew into a compote or cook less to create a chunky chutney, serving hot or cold to add interest and texture to your dish.