The pink princess of the British spring, ‘forced’ rhubarb is a splendidly strange crop, one that loves nothing more than the frosty embrace of a British winter.
A notoriously fickle vegetable to harvest, Yorkshire forced rhubarb is anything but easy to grow. It thrives in the county’s cold winters, but if the soil is too wet, it can’t be planted. If the temperature is too hot, it won’t grow; and 10 or more frosts are needed before a farmer can even think about forcing it. Only then can horticulturalists remove the heavy roots from the field, then clean and replant them inside the forcing sheds where photosynthesis is limited, encouraging glucose stored in the roots to stimulate growth. It demands patience, expertise and good fortune, and, ultimately, it is engineered for maximum taste: once deprived of light, the vegetable is forced to use the energy stored in its roots, making it far sweeter than the normal variety.