The last weekend in February usually marks the major event of the year in the Yorkshire rhubarb calendar. Around this time in 2020, the 14th annual Rhubarb Festival took place in Wakefield and the surrounding area, offering an abundance of events to enjoy, including cookery demos and every type of food and drink you can imagine. Grown in West Yorkshire in dark ‘forcing sheds’, this pink fleshy plant is a sacred Yorkshire treat which has become famous all over the world.
Rhubarb was especially popular in Victorian times and cookery books of the era were full of recipes for pies, custards, fools, jams, jellies and chutneys. Growers in an area around Leeds, Wakefield and Pontefract discovered that the soil was particularly conducive to producing early sweet rhubarb in dark forcing sheds, and that harvesting it by candlelight would bring it to market in a pink and luscious state. This became known as the Rhubarb Triangle.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was recommended by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and subsequently awarded ‘protected designation of origin’ (PDO) status by the European Commission’s protected food name scheme. Having now left the EU, the UK government is designing its own scheme to protect geographical food and drink names for products sold in the UK. Food and drink producers therefore now need to register their products for protection under both schemes.
Sadly, this year all planned Wakefield Council events to celebrate rhubarb have been cancelled because of Covid-19 regulations, so we won’t be painting the town pink with rhubarb gin or tiptoeing quietly round the forcing sheds in the Rhubarb Triangle, but we can join in the festival’s online events via Facebook.
Grandma Abson was always a big fan of early forced rhubarb and had a few good tips for cooking it. She would wash and cut the pieces and sprinkle demerara sugar over. Then she would cook them in the oven (Mark 3, 160C) for about 15 minutes until tender. This way the rhubarb retains maximum flavour. She would make delicious crumbles and pies but one of my favourites is rhubarb lattice flan.
What you need
For shortcrust pastry
4 oz (110g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
A little water (or a little milk and water)
Rub the butter into the flour. When the mixture is like breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre and add the egg. Add the water to make a dough. Let it stand for ½ hour in a cool place before rolling out.
For the filling
1lb/450g Rhubarb (cooked as described earlier)
2 oz/50g butter
2 oz/50g caster sugar
1 egg beaten
2 oz/50g self-raising flour
1 oz/25g ground almonds
A little milk to glaze
Sugar to sprinkle on the top
Roll the pastry out to cover a 23 cm/ 9 inch flan dish, reserving the trimmings of the pastry for the lattice decoration. Spread the cooked Rhubarb on the bottom of the pastry base. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, a little at a time, fold in the flour and ground almonds. Spread over the Rhubarb. Make the lattice. Roll out the trimmings of the remaining pastry and cut into thin 1 cm wide strips to criss-cross over the top of the flan. Moisten the ends of the strips with water and arrange over the filling, pressing the wetted ends to seal. Brush the lattice with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the oven at 35oF, Mark 4, 180C for about 25 minutes.
So, this weekend, make your own rhubarb fiesta and rhubarb, rhubarb!
Read more about Grandma Abson’s life, her passion for baking and recipes on www.grandmaabson.com and head over to Instagram @potsaway to check out how Meryl and Patrick are cooking together again.