Rhubarb (Rheum x hybridum)
Yorkshire rhubarb, from the hallowed rhubarb triangle around Wakefield has been awarded the coveted protected designation of origin (PDO) status by the European Commission, prohibiting anyone growing it outside the region from calling it the same. It gives it similar status to Cornish clotted cream and Melton Mowbray's pork pie. This rhubarb is grown in sheds and traditionally harvested by candlelight producing particularly delicious rhubarb with a sweeter flavour in early spring.
In the home garden forced rhubarb is one of the first edible crops available and historically this used to be achieved by covering the crop with purpose made terracotta rhubarb forcers that are still available today. However anything that excludes light will do the same job - such as a section of a wide diameter drainpipe with a lid or an upturned rubbish bin.
Forced rhubarb is easy to grow, its strong, resilient and accommodating requiring no fancy techniques just a mulch- preferably of manure in spring and water in times of drought to produce mouth watering electric pink stems for the kitchen. Rhubarb and almond tart is an absolute favourite of mine as is rhubarb and strudel cake, and it combines brilliantly with other flavours like elderflower, ginger and lemon grass.
How to force rhubarb:
1 Seek out rhubarb crowns with a couple of visible buds showing from reputable sources including family or friends
2 To find named varieties such as: 'Champagne', 'Timperley Early', 'Fultons Strawberry Surprise' search seed houses such as Thompson and Morgan on the internet.
3 Plant out into fertile, free draining soil in a sunny sheltered position.
4 Allow plants to grow for a year or two before covering them to get the lovely pink stems.
5 Grow more than one clump of rhubarb as forcing the same clump each year weakens the plant.