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25th Jun, 2022

Rare crop grown by candlelight takes Warwickshire chef back to his roots

A RARE crop grown in the dark and harvested by candlelight has been turned into an exclusive new dessert in Warwickshire.

Chef Director at Mallory Court Hotel and Spa, Simon Haigh, has created a tantalising twist on a crème brûlée with a unique vegetable that takes him back to his roots.

The dessert is centred on a forced English rhubarb – a winter crop which is grown in dark forcing sheds in Yorkshire, and available for a fleeting moment.

The rhubarb was granted ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status by the European Commission in 2010, and is grown in a nine-square-mile radius in West Yorkshire known as the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ – where Simon grew up.

Now the fuchsia-pink rhubarb stars on the menu at Mallory’s Rosette restauranTM with Simon creating a limited-edition forced English rhubarb brûlée.

Simon said: “It’s a crop with a really fascinating story as it was traditionally engineered in the Victorian times to fill a seasonal gap.

“Growing it by candlelight can help take the bitterness away and it also stays a bright pink.

“Now there’s only a handful of people who produce it in a tiny area of Yorkshire, so it’s a real treat to have it on the menu at Mallory while it’s in season.

“For me it brings back memories of my own childhood as it’s something we used to pick as kids in Yorkshire. My mum would give me a paper cone of granulated sugar we would pick the rhubarb and dip it straight into the sugar, so I guess you could say she was the inspiration behind this dessert!”

One of England’s rare treats, the elegant English forced rhubarb is prized because of its unusual season between January and March, which has grown in popularity over the last decade having been featured in glossy magazines and chef programmes.

Its unfamiliar farming method sees stems initially grown in open fields for up to two years so frost exposure toughens the roots, before being deprived of sunlight in dark forcing sheds, where the plant’s carbohydrate is turned into sweet glucose.

With the natural photosynthesis process blunted, the rhubarb crowns are forced to shoot upwards stems in search of light – a process which happens so quickly you can even hear them grow.

To create the dessert at Mallory Hotel, the stems of the rhubarb are poached with vanilla, black pepper, sugar, water and lemon; set on a cream and then topped with ginger and Advocaat ice cream with a ginger syrup.

Simon added: “We locally-source much of our produce and grow a lot of crops in our own kitchen garden too, but forced English rhubarb is a bit of a phenomenon really – there’s not many foods grown by candlelight. It’s one of those you just have to try!”

The dessert is available until mid-February.

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