Tom Parker Bowles Forced Rhubarb Fool recipe
PUBLISHED: 11:45 26 February 2013 | UPDATED: 17:07 01 March 2013
A great name, and beautifully simple to make. Ginger biscuits add a wonderful crunch. Soaking them in King's Ginger liqueur makes it finer still. As summer goes on, use gooseberries and raspberries instead... Serves 6
Somewhere, in a candlelit shed in deepest East Yorkshire, there grows a vegetable. But this is no everyday carrot, or run of the mill swede, rather a lithe, limber and rosy-cheeked beauty whose taste is as sweet as her season is short. Because for a mere three cold months, we get to feast on Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, a delicacy so adored and sought after that her very existence is protected by law.
Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb is the proud bearer of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) after her name, meaning that only specimens grown in the famed Rhubarb Triangle between Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds can legally bear this noble name. And its not just the location that makes this so special, but the method of production too. The stalks (or petioles, to use their official moniker) must be harvested by hand, illuminated by only the candles light.
Now hang about, I hear you say. Tradition is all well and good. But candlelight? Whats wrong with a good old electric bulb? The answer is simple. Its origin was, in the words of Elaine Lemm in her wonderful Great Book of Rhubarb, a happy accident in Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817. During the winter, workmen accidentally covered some normal rhubarb roots with soil when digging a trench. And when, a few weeks later, the roots were exposed once more, there were a number of tiny, tender, pink shoots with a far superior flavour
And so an industry was born, first in London, before the whole operation moved up north. Forced rhubarb demands two things for optimum growth - water and soil with high nitrogen content.
Yorkshires never lacked rain. And a thriving woollen industry provided much needed waste, which was spread on the fields and converted into nutrients.
Two to three year old roots would be planted in the sheds, after exposure to frost, with no light or food. So without these two crucial necessities, the root is forced to grow a shoot. With so much force that you can actually hear a pop as stem is forced upwards. The candles, by the way, are simply there to help the pickers go about their business.
Vast sheds were built, heated by coal from the local mines. And every night, a Rhubarb Express would steam down to London, carrying this Pink Champagne down to London, and Europe after that. At the peak of the trade, at the start of the 20th century, over 200 tonnes a day made it down to the Capital. But by the mid-1960, the industry was in ruins, and the train never lefts its siding again.
Now, though, forced rhubarb is back and thriving, thanks to the likes of E H Oldroyd and Sons (yorkshirerhubarb.co.uk). And praise the lord for that, as it offers a much needed flash of pretty pink, a cheeky blush, in these dull winter months. Delicate and beautifully sweet, its like the fresh-faced teenage sister to conventional rhubarbs middle-aged maiden. Last year, I made some magnificent vodka with a bunch of the stuff, mellow with the merest hint of acidity. It helps create a wonderful crumble and fool too (recipe below) but also cuts an elegant swathe through both fatty pork and rich mackerel when transformed into a sauce. In fact, it has to be one of the true stars of the winter kitchen. Forced Yorkshire rhubarb. Its discovery might have been an accident. But its newfound adoration is anything but.
Rhubarb Fool from Lets Eat
1.5 kg forced rhubarb stalks, cut into 4 cm lengths
300g caster sugar
Juice and zest of an orange
550 ml double cream
Packet of ginger biscuits, crunched up into crumbs
Big splash of either King Ginger Liqueur or Stones Ginger wine (optional)
Preheat oven to 180 c, put rhubarb in casserole and cover with the sugar, orange juice and zest. Put on lid and cook for about 25 minutes (40 for conventional rhubarb), until soft.
Allow to cool. Strain juice and reserve, and pick out 12 pieces for decoration and put aside.
Puree the remaining rhubarb in food processor.
Whip cream into soft peaks, not too firm, then fold in rhubarb puree into cream, along with a few dribbles of reserved juice. Dont mix too manically.
Put a layer of the crushed biscuits at bottom of small wine glass, then splash of the ginger booze. Spoon fool on top and finish with two pieces of rhubarb...