The Evolution of Tradition Presents: The Refectory Seasonal Series

In collaboration with the Grub and Grog Shop, Northern Monk is presenting a 4 part seasonal series of events. Each installment will focus on one particular ingredient that is locally sourced or British grown.

For our first instalment rhubarb has been chosen because of its prominent feature in Yorkshire’s history. On Tuesday 16th June, attendees will have the opportunity to sample a 5 course meal, all involving rhubarb in distinctively different ways, celebrating the diversity of the vegetable. For the beer pairing, NMBCo will produce a Rhubarb & Rosemary Blossom IPA, two ingredients that have been used in the brewing process for hundreds of years.

History of Rhubarb in Yorkshire

Native to Mongolia, records suggests that rhubarb has been used in Chinese medicine as early as 2700 BC. Marco Polo is attributed in bringing the drug known as ‘rhacoma root’ back to Europe in the thirteenth century, when it became known for its positive and balancing effect upon the digestive system. It has later been found that rhubarb has a whole host of medicinal properties including being an anticholesteremic, antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, laxative and tonic to name a few. With the use of the Silk Routes by European merchants, rhubarb was later used widely in European pharmacies. However it wasn’t until 1620 AD that rhubarb first made its way to England with Yorkshireman, Sir Matthew Lister first introducing the edible garden rhubarb.

The Rhubarb Triangle

With the decline of the industrial era, abandoned buildings were plentiful. In the late 1870’s, Joseph Whitwell was the first to erect forcing sheds in Kirkstall to extend the growing season. The Whitwell family are regarded to be the first large-scale grower of rhubarb, with cheap coal to heat the sheds and large quantities of horse manure along with ‘night soil’ from the urban areas, all helping the rapid growth of rhubarb as a viable business

As rhubarbs popularity increased so did the producers in Yorkshire. The soil of the area proved perfect for the growth of a substantial root system, creating high quality yields that would be sold at premium prices covering the high production costs.

The quality of the Yorkshire crop became so renowned that its demand overshadowed all other areas of Britain and rival producers simply could not compete and were forced to stop production. As a result, rhubarbs production was centralised between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, which would become known world wide as ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’. As a result, 95% of the forced rhubarb grown in England came from The Rhubarb Triangle making it the centre for the world’s production of forced rhubarb.

Rhubarb & Rosemary Blossom IPA

Like rhubarb, rosemary’s medicinal qualities has been well documented throughout history. Long held for its reputation for enhancing memory or scattering negative vibrations, today rosemary helps with the discomfort of arthritis, muscle aches, and various skin conditions, while recent studies are suggesting that it may even prove to aid memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease.

When cooked, rhubarb produces a very rich tart-sweetness, perfect for pies and desserts. So when it’s paired with rosemary, a sweetly perfumed or fragrant herb, what you end up with delightful pungent mix of a tart, fruity aromatic beer.