Walks In The Rhubarb Triangle

I picked up this slim volume whilst browsing in Waterstone’s book shop the other week. Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle is a delightful little book and it got me thinking about a favourite food.

I’ve been fascinated that I live in something called the “Rhubarb Triangle” since I moved to Beeston in 1984. It’s a fruit I love – OK technically it’s a vegetable, but my favourite dishes are with a crumble (and custard) or in a fool – so I’m calling it a fruit. I have grown it over years in various gardens and on my allotment.

The rhubarb in my garden is just poking through, but “forced rhubarb” production is in full swing. It’s the forced rhubarb that the Triangle is famous for. Rhubarb is grown by candlelight in large dark sheds, apparently in the quiet of the night your can hear the rhubarb growing. At its peak in 1939, 200 tons of rhubarb left Ardsley station every day on the special rhubarb train heading for London and on to Paris.

So where exactly is the triangle? Definitions vary: Wakefield, Bradford & Leeds is often quoted, whilst Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell seems a better fit to me (although it excludes Beeston). There’s a handy map on the BBC website in a story from 2010 about Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb being granted “Protected Designation of Origin” status by the EU – like Champagne or Parma Ham. Rhubarb even has its own festival in Wakefield which runs from the 24th-26th February this year.

I was told a story (that I cannot verify) that a new headteacher was appointed at Rodillian High School from outside the area. He thought he should find out more about the locality and found the school was in the Rhubarb Triangle. He soon discovered that there are different varieties of Rhubarb and became fascinated. After he retired he established the national collection of rhubarb at the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Harlow Carr, Harrogate. The collection now has over 130 varieties. If this story isn’t true, it ought to be.

So back to the book. Author Richard Bell has combined nine circular walks, varying from on and a half to six miles, with interesting facts about rhubarb (it originated in Siberia and was brought to Europe by Marco Polo) and the history of various places along the route. There are even recipes including a flapjack inevitably called “Rhubarb Triangles”! I haven’t managed to get out on any of the walks yet, but the directions for the one based on Middleton Park (an area I know well) seem to be very clear. I’m looking forward to some enjoyable Sunday afternoon strolls over the coming weeks.

Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle by Richard Bell is published by Willow Island Editions.