In the pink: Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink & Rhubarb

Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

The Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb is a three-day celebration of February’s finest vegetable.

“And so remember, whether you’re a beekeeper, accountant, tree surgeon or informant, our advice to you is always go to work on a slice of Rhubarb Tart” – so goes John Cleese’s “Rhubarb Tart Song”, the most famous rhubarb-related ditty you’ve never heard. Cleese has a point though. There’s something about the taste of those shocking pink stems that can be deeply soothing; from custard-infused boiled sweets on long car journeys to spoonfuls of warm pudding in the winter. Where the sweetness of a summer fruit is too easy – seductive, but then cloying – rhubarb is hardy and sharp, a vegetable that’s in for the long-run.

As faithful advocates of niche food festivals, it’s no surprise that the Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb has been on our radar for quite some time. And we promise this has absolutely nothing to do with Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb being given Protected Designation of Origin status in 2010, joining stilton, parma ham and bourbon in the gastronomic it-crowd. After last year’s trips out to the Marmalade Festival in Penrith and Egremont’s Crab Fair, a pilgrimage to the home of forced rhubarb is next on our list.

Take a tour of the Rhubarb Forcing Sheds (not as sinister as it sounds)

The festival kicks off on Friday 21 February (until 23 Feb), when food producers from across the region will be selling specialist cheese, breads, chutney and, of course, plenty of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, at Wakefield’s Cathedral Precinct. Among them will be the city’s own Allums Butchers alongside Saddleworth Cheese, fruit liqueur producers Little Red Berry, Ripon’s Davill’s Bakery and Ossett-based craft beer shop Bier Huis. (Top tip: Bier Huis is the UK’s only supplier of Mister Kitchen’s Rabarcello, the wickedly red, rhubarb-based Dutch spirit.)

Local eateries Iris, Create Café and Mocca Moocho are laying on a heart-stopping amount of rhubarb-based treats, from afternoon teas, rhubarb and chantilly cream fritters to galettes, crème fraiche upside down pies and spiced rhubarb rice puddings. Once you’ve gloriously overindulged on fruit fool, head over to Oldroyd’s Farm in the village of Carlton (a 15 minute drive away) for a tour of the Rhubarb Forcing Sheds (not as sinister as it sounds) where crops are grown out of season in dark buildings lit only by candlelight (booking essential).

A programme of demonstrations is spread throughout the weekend, with local and national chefs appearing in the cookery theatre. On Friday, TV Chef Rachel Green will take the stage, while Heather Copley, co-founder of Pontefract’s Farmer Copley’s Farm Shop and Simon Rimmer, the man behind Manchester’s vegetarian bistro Greens, appear on Saturday. Children’s food chef Ben Ebbrell invites a younger foodie crowd to the theatre on Sunday, with botanical chocolate maker Fiona Sciolti also leading a demonstration. Sciolti will be making hand-crafted delicacies using teas, flowers, herbs, local cream and honey.

A day trip to the Rhubarb Triangle may not be quite the same as a tour of the Champagne region. But when it comes to UK food festivals, this is the sort we like best; the smaller, quirkier ones that are an ode to both the local product and its growers – plus, rumour has it that if you listen closely in those candlelit forcing sheds, you can hear the crimson rhubarb crowns pushing their way up through the soil…

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