Step Inside the Magical World of An Ancient Tradition: Growing Rhubarb by Candlelight

A centuries-old tradition of harvesting rhubarb by candlelight has been captured in this series of otherworldly photographs.

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Farmer Jonathan Westwood’s great-great-uncle started the tradition of harvesting winter-forced rhubarb in the north of England in 1870.

Now 59-year-old Jonathan is the latest in his family to grow rhubarb in a nine-mile-squared area dubbed Yorkshire’s ‘Rhubarb Triangle’.

He took over the reigns of the business from his father 15 years ago and painstakingly picks the vegetables by hand, in candlelight, after a unique growing process.

The rhubarb is left in fields for two years without being harvested—with all sugars kept within the root.

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The farmer then moves the crop into pitch-black sheds. In such conditions, all of the energy of the plant is aimed into the stalk—creating a much sweeter taste than usual.

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To ensure they’re unable to photosynthesize, the rhubarb gets picked using the very lowest lighting conditions—by candlelight, with the doors closed.

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Few farms continue to grow rhubarb is this time-honored way, but the method is much-esteemed by foodies, with over 300 tonnes of the rhubarb being sent to high-end grocery stores each season—and even to Buckingham Palace, and potentially, the Queen’s plate.

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It’s believed that West Yorkshire once produced 90% of the world’s winter-forced rhubarb from the forcing sheds within the Rhubarb Triangle.

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What’s produced at those farms today is protected under the European Commission’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), just as other regional delicacies—such as French Champagne and Italian Parma ham—is.

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