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 northern winter. Up in the cold, wet ground of the West Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle, while the rest of us are toasting by the fire, growers are busy keeping a deep, dark secret. In the eerie darkness of their so-called ‘forcing’ sheds, they cunningly coax rhubarb roots into early bud. Reaching for the light, the plants burst forth, with a just-audible crackle and pop, resulting in the most tender of stems.
Like generations before them, farmers still gather their harvest by the gentle light of candles. The precious tonic extracted from the rhubarb root was once so prized it could command several times the price of opium and, by the railway age, the fruit had become such a fashionable delicacy that it commanded a dedicated train service, dubbed the Rhubarb Express, to speed it to market in London, from where it was whisked off to European capitals.
Loaded with natural antioxidants, rhubarb extract is known for its natural cleansing properties.
Noble Isle’s rhubarb extract is sourced from E Oldroyd & Sons, a sixth-generation rhubarb farm in the Yorkshire Triangle, overseen by the ‘high priestess of rhubarb’, Janet Oldroyd.
Q: What inspired you to start growing rhubarb?
I left my job as a medical scientist to start our family but once the boys were born my father wanted me to take charge of the new rhubarb propagation techniques he wanted to adapt. Being quite handy with a scalpel I decided it was a more appropriate tool than the knives others were using. Such very small pot plants needed the careful touch, and we were one of the few growers to make it work. It all led from there really. My father’s enthusiasm and love for the crop was infectious, and what had laid dormant in me from my childhood took root (if you excuse the pun).
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