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In search of rhubarb stories

Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb took place this weekend and the Media and Place research cluster were roaming the streets in search of rhubarb stories. In this post, Dr Lynne Hibberd reports on the team's progress so far.

Saturday started promisingly with Johnny I'Anson of BBC Radio Leeds interviewing Dr Zoe Thompson about the aims of the research. As Zoe explained, you can take the rhubarb out of Yorkshire but you can't take the Yorkshire out of rhubarb, and we reckon that this plant plays a pivotal role in regional identity. The radio slot immediately prompted rhubarb stories to our email address (rhubarb@leedsbeckett.ac.uk) as well as a flurry of Tweets under hashtag #rhubarbtales.

We've heard from people taking rhubarb to Spain where it was christened Roobarbio, eating raw 'tusky' dipped in sugar or sherbert, lots of favourite recipes for crumbles and pies, as well as a fair few people stating they've never tried it because it's 'funny looking'. On the streets of the festival people were quick to claim it as key to their cultural identity, citing instances of songs from the rhubarb triangle, rhubarb walks and rhubarb races.

We've seen more innovative uses of rhubarb this weekend than you might believe - rhubarb topped pork pies, kangaroo burgers and kebabs. There was walking rhubarb (of course), rhubarb inspired manicures and many folk dressed in pink and green for the occasion. Many rhubarb stories go back for decades. We spoke to one farmer whose family's involvement in rhubarb could be traced back five generations. For others though, rhubarb has proved to be the inspiration for new entrepreneurial opportunities.

After completing a degree in chemistry and working as an accountant, one local man realised a gap in the market for rhubarb flavoured vodka while on a stag do in Amsterdam. By the time we spoke to him at 2pm on Saturday afternoon his entire stock was sold out. At 5pm the snow started, and as the stalls began the chilly process of packing up we headed home to enjoy our rhubarb bounty.

Although it's very early stages in the research we're already formulating a few ideas. Where are the women in these stories? Traditionally miners' wives played an important role in the farming of rhubarb. Now that the mining has declined we'd really like to hear what women's relationship is to the rhubarb triangle. Does rhubarb mean the kitchen or has it opened up any other avenues? Is the love of rhubarb generational? If you no longer live in the area do you still seek out rhubarb? Most of the rhubarb we encountered this weekend was cooked, but perhaps you're a fan of raw rhubarb, or inspired by its recent re-branding as a 'superfood'?

Over the next few months we'll continue to seek out as many stories as we can. You can let us know yours by emailing the team on rhubarb@leedsbeckett.ac.uk, or following the stories on Twitter under the hashtag #rhubarbtales.  You might even want to pop into our confessional RhuBooth, currently under construction by our design students, and whisper your rhubarb tales in private...

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About the Author

Leeds Beckett University

Dr Lynne Hibberd

Lynne is a former Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett.

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