I am a proud Northerner. Yorkshire, born and bred. The fact I moved to London six years ago isn't helpful to this story so lets skim over that shall we? I grew up in Bradford, curry capital of the UK but we dont just do spice well, that part of the country is also home to an area known as the Rhubarb Triangle, home to Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb. The growing of forced rhubarb is almost mythical, done in darkened sheds with just candlelight to illuminate the farmers work.
Rhubarb was originally grown in London but that changed it 1877 when the first Yorkshire growers set up shop in Leeds. The growing environment turned out to be ideal and many growers followed, up to 200 farms were operating in the area at the height of the triangle. So popular was rhubarb, that during the war the government controlled the price to keep it affordable. But, times changed and its popularity dwindled, with most of the farms shuttering and the national affection for the vegetable, yes its not actually a fruit, dried up. Thankfully over the last 10/15 years we have become a nation of rhubarb lovers again. Right now we are in the middle of the forced rhubarb season so this week I am presenting you with a whole host of rhubarb recipes, starting today with a basic roasted rhubarb, which to my mind is the simplest and best way of treating rhubarb. A batch of this makes for a fabulous breakfast served with yoghurt and granola, or served alongside a panna cotta for dessert.
Before we get to the first recipe I should briefly talk about the difference between regular and forced rhubarb. Forced rhubarb, which is in season January-March, is grown in Yorkshire, outdoors for the first two years, before being moved inside, into dark sheds a few months before harvest. In this dark and warmer environment the rhubarb grows and the carbohydrates that have been storing up for two years convert into sugar, leaving forced rhubarb at once thinner, sweeter and more vibrant than its traditional sibling. So much more prized are the forced varieties that the farmers from the Rhubarb Triangle led a campaign for Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb to become a protect categorisation in the EU, marking it alongside foods such as Champagne and Stilton Cheese.
250g forced rhubarb
65g caster sugar
Juice of 1 orange (at this time of year I like to use blood oranges but any will do)
1 vanilla pod
Lemon Zest (you can also use lemon juice instead of orange for a sharper flavour)
Star Anise, Cinnamon, Tonka Bean
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).
Trim the ends of the rhubarb and cut into one inch long pieces. Place onto a small baking tray with the sugar and the orange juice, mixing together. Cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds, placing both the seeds and the pod onto the tray.
Roast the rhubarb for 10-12 minutes until tender but the rhubarb is still holding its shape. Serve either warm or chilled.