Something stirs in the rhubarb triangle

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The Independent Online
THE rhubarb triangle is booming. Demand from restaurants and supermarkets for what is fast becoming one of Britain's most fashionable fruits has brought new fortune to the area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield where the plant is grown commer cially.

Once, the industry flourished to such an extent that there were more than 100 growers and Stanley, near Wakefield, was known as the "rhubarb railhead". Now, there are only 19 growers left, nursing the plants in candlelit-sheds throughout the winter. But one of them, David Westwood, says that he expects to harvest 200 tons in March. "I can hardly keep up with demand," he said.

Rhubarb had already become part of the heritage industry. Wakefield council's tourism department - which argues that the rhubarb growers are as much Yorkshire heroes as the county's miners and cricketers - has mapped a "rhubarb trail" which winds up at the National Rhubarb Collection, a reservation for 150 different varieties in Harrogate.

"Yorkshire growers could beat southerners to market because rhubarb needs to be subjected to cold conditions to ensure an early crop," Chris Margrave, the curator said.

Among those leading the rhubarb comeback is Marco Pierre White, who won three Michelin stars last week. He first tasted rhubarb during his childhood in a Leeds council house.

"It's delicious stewed," Mr White said yesterday from his kitchen at The Restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel, in London. "

But the version he serves now bears little resemblance to the rhubarb many remember served with custard in the school canteen. "It's caramelised and encased in thin puff pastry, rather like a Tarte Tatin,'' he said.