Last week I finally got the chance to meet our long time Yorkshire forced rhubarb grower and supplier, Robert Tomlinson and his (camera-shy!) wife Paula. Wow! What a trip.
Ross and I made the four-hour car journey in the evening with two sleeping babies in the back – it’s definitely the most stress free time to travel!
Our destination was the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire. An area of only nine square miles world-renowned for producing forced rhubarb. Given Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Commission in 2010, it’s basically the champagne of the rhubarb world. Which is precisely why we use it as it’s the best.
We met Rob and Paula on a muddy track at the back of their farm in Yorkshire’s finest wind and rain. It’s their busiest time of the year so they’d been up since 5am working hard. We were very grateful they were kind enough to give two jam makers and two miniature humans some of their precious time.
They led us further down the track to a series of non-descript looking brick barns that stood only around eight feet tall. Behind a rickety old wooden door we soon discovered where the magic happened.
It was amazing! Upon first entry it had the feel of an intricately detailed pop-up event installation one might find in our home town of Bristol with it’s vibrant and innovative art scene.
But this was real life- the home of the Harbinger Rhubarb that makes our popular seasonal special.
Grown in the dark to prevent photosynthesis from occurring, which will happen with natural or artificial light, the only light is the warm, dusky glow of a few candles.
This method means the stalks remain a vivid pink to crimson red colour with the unused yellow leaves almost wilting away. The sheds were full of it.
The only other thing in there was a fan heater to keep the plants at a happy temperature with the low roofs keeping that heat closer to the ground.
Rob’s family has been growing rhubarb here for four generations. He explains rhubarb fell out of popularity last century as improved trade and shipping links meant exotic fruits became more readily available. But also that rhubarb is making an emphatic return. He didn’t need to explain to us how great it is as you guys are always reminding us!
Dressed in our bright pink and blue Single Variety hoodies we were equally impressed to see Rob and Paula sporting their own bright red and yellow hoodies, just like their rhubarb!
In the red and yellow he’s Yorkshire’s answer to David Hasselhoff. But still humbly refuses to accept his growing fame as the best forced rhubarb producer in the world.
The rhubarb begins life outside until established enough to re-plant indoors. Once inside it is carefully nurtured to mature until ready for his various customers ranging from jam makers to Michelin starred chefs and restaurants.
Rob and Paula do all of this by themselves. It’s a labour of love, something we know a thing or two about, and when this amount of care is put in the result is so often fantastic.
Once it’s ready, Rob picks it by hand and takes it to the packing room where Paula then boxes it up and weighs it to go into the pile for delivery. To give you an idea how fresh it is, they picked it on Sunday, sent it to us on Monday, it arrived on Tuesday and we made jam on Wednesday.
We've now had two pallets of rhubarb delivered and you're all getting through the jam quickly! The rhubarb season is short, and will end in March. So don't leave it too long if you want to give our Harbinger Rhubarb Preserve a try!
Click here to buy our Harbinger Rhubarb Preserve, available during the rhubarb season January - March.
A big thank you to Robert & Paula for taking the time to show us around the farm!