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Rhubarb: Yorkshire's Answer to Champagne
Protected trading status sought for plant
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-24 04:50 (KST)   
Campaigners are seeking to win for Yorkshire-grown rhubarb the same special protected trading status granted to Champagne and Gorgonzola cheese.

Protected status, authorized by the European Union, promotes and protects food produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographical area using traditional methods.

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Yorkshire is England's biggest county, home of the famous 19th century Bronte sisters, novelists Emily, Charlotte and Anne. Britain's longest running TV comedy show, "The Last of The Summer Wine," first screened in 1973, is filmed there, as was the hit film "The Fully Monty" in which a group of men countered the boredom of unemployment by performing a striptease act.

Rhubarb is a plant with vivid red or pink stalks, depending on the variety, surmounted by a frond of green leaves. It can grow to half the height of a man.

The stalks are cooked and used in a variety of dishes, usually deserts. British members of Parliament recently feasted on rhubarb crumble to support the campaign.

Yorkshire rhubarb has been grown in what has become know as the "Rhubarb Triangle" since 1877. The Triangle is a frost pocket in the shadow of the Pennine hills between Leeds and Wakefield.

Rhubarb's beginnings have been traced back to Siberia on the banks of the River Volga. Water and freezing temperatures are essential to the growth of high quality tender rhubarb, and up to recent times there has been a plentiful supply of these in the Pennine foothills.

Janet Oldroyd Hulme, leading spokesperson and publicist for the cause, a fourth generation of the family firm E Oldroyd and Son told me that there are now only 12 commercial growers in the Triangle. In the 1930s there were 200 growers, but the majority went to the wall as Britain started to import more and more food from other parts of the world.

Hulme, who wants clearer labeling of the Yorkshire product, comments, "People want English rhubarb but we have customers often saying they can only find Dutch rhubarb.

"What we want is our rhubarb to be clearly labeled as 'traditionally grown Yorkshire indoor rhubarb.' This way it makes a clear statement that says where it is grown and that it's different from outdoor rhubarb, because customers want to know what they are getting."

E Oldroyd's have 12 huge sheds in the Leeds-Wakefield area. The rhubarb stalks grow in darkness. When they are ready to be harvested workers gather them by armfuls in candlelight or torchlight.

The stalks grow at the rate of an inch a day -- so rapidly that buds make loud popping sounds as they burst, and there is a sinister creaking as the stalks expand.

To go into the darkened world of a rhubarb shed is to enter John Wyndham's world of the Triffids. His 1951 novel, "The Day of the Triffids," imagined a world overrun with poisonous ambulatory plants. Obviously rhubarb plants do not move around, but those creaking noises resulting from their rapid growth give a degree of credibility to Wyndham's fiction.

Janet Oldroyd Hulme explains that the plants spend two years outdoors before being moved into the heated sheds. The Triangle has the best soil, carefully prepared over many years, to encourage rhubarb to thrive.

While in the open air the plants store huge amounts of extra energy in their roots. Frost converts that carbohydrate into glucose, and that in turn speeds growth during the five or six weeks the plants are in the sheds.

In a normal year E Oldroyd's grow 1,000 tons of rhubarb, 200 tons of which is "forced" in the sheds. Britain has just experienced its warmest winter since records began, and the lack of frost means that this year there will only be 100 tons of "forced" rhubarb.

Janet's Member of Parliament, Edward Balls, is supporting her campaign for special status. Balls is economic secretary to the Treasury -- a key man in the team supporting Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and odds-on favorite to be British Prime Minister within a matter of months.

The rhubarb campaign is featured on the MP's Web site:

Less than 30 United Kingdom food products have "European Union Protected Designation of Origin" status. In France, Germany, Italy and Spain there are hundreds of designated products.

The application for protected status for the pink spears of Yorkshire-grown rhubarb has been accepted by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for consideration before being passed on to the European Union for a final decision.

Janet Oldroyd Hulme points out that rhubarb is a healthy food. It has been found to stimulate metabolism and lower cholesterol levels.

"It's a great food for people who are dieting," says Janet. "I always have it for breakfast, with pure orange juice and a diet yoghurt on top of it. It cleanses and detoxifies the body. There's no need for colonic irrigation in Yorkshire when we have rhubarb."

Rhubarb is mostly eaten in pies or crumbles, or stewed. However it now features in dishes prepared by master chefs.

An annual rhubarb festival held in the town of Wakefield featured such dishes as vegetable soup with cheese and rhubarb croute; champagne and rhubarb sorbet; pan-fried duck breast with honey and rhubarb glaze; parsnip and rhubarb mash; and rhubarb timbale, topped off with gourmet crumble.

Rhubarb Recipes

Hot cooked rhubarb with custard or ice cream

Rhubarb should be wiped with damp kitchen roll to prevent the sticks absorbing excess moisture, and then chopped into approximately 1 chunks.

Prepare the rhubarb as above using between 85 to 110g of sugar for each 454g of forced rhubarb, dependant upon taste.

Place the chopped rhubarb, sugar and 3 tblsp water (to prevent the rhubarb scorching) in a pan, cover and simmer until soft, which will only take a few minutes.

Taste, extra sugar can be added if desired.
The water can be replaced with fresh orange juice if desired.

Serve whilst still hot with custard or ice cream.

* Rhubarb, Orange and Hazelnut Crumble

Base
676 g Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb
1 orange
110 g caster sugar

Crumble topping
110 g plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
110 g butter
55 g castor sugar
85 g chopped hazelnuts

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius
Gently wipe the rhubarb with damp kitchen roll and cut into 1 chunks place in an ovenproof dish

Add the zest and juice of the orange, and sprinkle with 110g of castor sugar.

To make the crumble topping:
Put the flour, salt and butter in a bowl and gently rub together until the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and hazelnuts.
Cover the rhubarb base with an even topping and bake for approximately 30 mins or until the topping is golden brown.

This recipe can be varied using any nut of your choice. If using flaked almonds simply scatter on the crumble surface. Nuts can be omitted if desired, or substitute the castor sugar in the topping with Demerara sugar.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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