Day out for the infamous five
The highlight on our calendar was a visit to the rhubarb farm. Arrangements were made by Peter’s wife Julie affectionally dubbed ‘management’. In order to make a day of it we were also to look at a near wildlife park on the site of one of Peter’s reclaimed slag heaps. And to to add a little none horticultural culture for Cathi, Julie and Brenda we were to go to trendy Wakefield to visit the Barbara Hepworth sculpture museum where they were making it really special by holding a photographic exhibition about the history of Yorkshire rhubarb.
I have written before about how to grow rhubarb and how the famous Yorkshire rhubarb triangle between Rothwell, Morley and Wakefield grows the world’s finest rhubarb. Historically the rhubarb centre for Europe with nearly 200 farms it is now experiencing something of a revival, sadly with less than ten growers!
Our day started at Carlton, centre of the famous triangle. Wonderfully empty of large retail chains we had a fantastic breakfast at a small homely café.
Rhubarb in the field takes two years to grow strong plants that are lifted and ‘forced’ in mild heat after carting inside into very dark sheds. The rhubarb stalks grow red, long, juicy and tender. The only illumination is candles and these are limited to visits, crop management and picking.
|Let's light a candle
|Darkness is essential for tender quality
|A very old family firm
After coffee - in plastic cups - and biscuits from a tin, we were sat down in a comfy warm shed and given an unillustrated lecture. (We were in Yorkshire after all and the coffee was infinitely better than the grey sickly water served to us yesterday in a posh garden centre in Bridlington).
|You can see from his hat that it was ‘a bit parky’
|We learned that rhubarb can go straight in the freezer
According to our guide some of the apparent health benefits of rhubarb are now thought to be due to the very low levels of oxalic acid in the pink stalks. Music to my ears to hear of yet another example of a toxic material at very low concentrations being beneficial.
|Our guide, a sturdy scion of the Oldroyd family was a mine of information
|I asked her whether they cut or pulled rhubarb. (I usually cut my own). She explained that it is essential to pull forced rhubarb because the cut stubs encourage disease. The picture suggests there may be exceptions
|Pulled every four days and they were pulling today
|London chefs love it
|What has Cathi found here?
A note about wool shoddy
Peter and I quizzed one of our guides, a jovial loquacious son of the soil. I thought that wool shoddy manure which is a by-product of the wool industry - previously in even steeper decline than rhubarb - is no longer available. That is untrue and piles of the itchy stuff are spread on the fields. Apparently wool clippings comes from the mills in a variety of guises and those of the dusty kind are not very pleasant.
It is the traditional ‘slow release fertiliser’ that releases its nitrogen over a period of two or three years. It comes cheaply in huge loads.
I am amazed that no entrepreneur has offered to retail it to organic gardeners. After all they pay a great deal for dubious fertilisers and this one actually works!
|Down the road there was another farmer’s farm shop - I thank them for their informative pictures of traditional production
|The day ended with a spot of culture in Wakefield