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Eric Shackle Writes: Noisy Rhubarb

"Would you believe you can hear a vegetable grow?'' asks ace reporter Eric Shackle.

Would you believe you can hear a vegetable grow? You can if you visit one of many properties in Yorkshire, UK, that grow thousands of tons of rhubarb for British and European markets.

"The sheds are kept in permanent twilight," says Yorkshire born-and-bred Peter Hinchliffe. "The rhubarb grows so quickly you can hear it. There's a ghostly creaking and squeaking."

You can't hear common or garden rhubarb growing in your backyard, but you can if the rate of growth is forced, as these Yorkshire plants are, and have been for 200 years or more.

Rhubarb is native to Siberia, where it grows on river banks, so it feels quite at home in Yorkshire's cold, wet winters.

The plants are grown in the open for two years before being transferred to the forcing sheds, where they live a pampered existence in dark, heated sheds.

When the stalks reach a length of 40 to 45cm they are harvested. by pickers working by candlelight. The leaves are cut off, as they're poisonous.

Although not classed as a fruit, rhubarb is cooked in compotes, pies, crumbles, and jams and is sometimes used in savoury dishes including soups and gravies.

You can even enjoy a glass of rhubarb wine.

"There are two things that you have to know about to make good rhubarb wine," says the author of The Rhubarb Compendium :

1) Chop up your rhubarb stalks and freeze them in plastic bags for a few days before you make the wine. I really don't understand why this should make a difference, but it does. If you use fresh rhubarb the wine never comes out as good.

2) You have to have patience. Rhubarb wine can taste uninteresting at eight months and really good at ten months. You have to let it mellow.


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