You may not realise it but “Yorkshire forced rhubarb” is on the list of foods that have their names legally protected by the European Union – right up there with Stilton Cheese and Parma Ham. Of course, that designation only applies to farms within the famous ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ in West Yorkshire. Nevertheless, the whole of Yorkshire has a great tradition of growing rhubarb in gardens and allotments across the county.
Forced rhubarb is more tender and sweeter than stems grown with the plants exposed to normal light conditions and, many would argue, is one of the real delicacies of the allotment. January is a good time to check existing crowns to see how they have overwintered and to ensure there is no sign of rot to the centre. Forcing the plant to produce early stems is relatively easy. Cover the crown with a bucket or upturned pot ensuring that all light is blocked out. So cover drainage holes in pots with stones and then just let the plant do the rest. When stems reach the top of the pot, they are ready for harvesting. Forced stems are lighter-coloured and are generally ready three or four weeks earlier than your normal crop.