Whilst being very much a traditional crop and with its commercial origins having started in Yorkshire, forced rhubarb is undergoing a renaissance. As well as being prized by top chefs and restauranteurs, retail sales are also buoyant, with our own Norfolk grown rhubarb being supplied both into national retailers and locally.
The most important factors when growing forced rhubarb are the variety, potential vigour and size of the root. In order that we ensure the highest possible forced yield, we do not harvest the rhubarb stems from the outdoor rhubarb roots destined for forcing. After two years of outdoor growing we lift the roots from the ground from early December once the roots have experienced enough chill units. The key is that the root has experienced enough chill that once put inside our forcing tunnels the plant thinks it is spring and starts to grow again.
Forced rhubarb is pink and the leaves are small and yellow, all of which is in stark contrast to outdoor grown rhubarb. Because the stems are grown in the dark the plants do not photosynthesise which would cause the stems to be more bitter and acidic tasting so as a result the forced pink stems are surprisingly tender and sweet.
This will be followed by outdoor rhubarb which we expect to be harvesting towards the end of April, look out for further updates…