Caught by the River


29th March 2008

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

The best rhubarb to use for this cake is early forced rhubarb for it’s sweet, fragrant flavour and also for it’s incredible, vibrant pink colour.

Forced rhubarb is just coming to the end of its season (I know, sorry, outdoor is now available) and in this country is mostly grown in the ‘Wakefield Triangle’ – an area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield. Many years ago, the industry grew in West Yorkshire because they were able to use coal from the local pits to heat the forcing sheds and waste wool from the textile industry as fertiliser. After WW2, there were two hundred growers in the area. Now there are only twelve, who struggle to survive against imported produce.

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The method of forcing the vegetable came about by chance in the 19th century when a Chelsea gardener left a chimney pot over a plant. Desperate to reach daylight, the stems quickly grew tall to produce succulent and tender rhubarb.

In the Yorkshire Triangle, the rhubarb plants are started off outside in the cold winter months and then moved into dark sheds where the warmth triggers growth by tricking them into thinking that it’s Spring. The lack of light sends them into overdrive and in a frantic search for light they grow like the clappers in the pitch black sheds.

They grow so fast that they can be heard popping and squeaking as the buds and stems are forced upwards. Within weeks they can be harvested – by hand and by candlelight so as not to disturb them. Must be pretty wierd in those sheds!

175g caster sugar
175g butter
3 eggs
175g self raising flour
200g rhubarb
50g light muscovado sugar

Wash the rhubarb, chop the ends off and cut into 2cm chunks. Arrange the pieces in the bottom of a buttered 20cm round cake tin and cover with the light muscovado sugar.
Beat the butter and caster sugar until fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time. If they start to curdle, add a spoonful of flour with each egg.
Fold in the rest of the flour then transfer to the cake tin, on top of the rhubarb. Bake in a medium oven for about 45 mins and allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out. The lovely pink rhubarb will be on top and the dark sugar will hopefully be sticky and running down the sides!

Wendy Barrett