It was 1837, and Queen Victoria had ascended the throne but had not yet been coronated. That ceremony would take place June 28, 1838, and English nurseryman Joseph Myatt was cultivating a special breed of vegetable that would revolutionize the plant's use. Until this time its primary use was as medicine.
Botanists track this vegetable as far back as 2700 BC in China, where it was presumed to be a powerful medicine, particularly noted for its purgative qualities.
The University of Minnesota says Marco Polo observed the plants in their native habitats on mountainsides of Sukku in 1271.
The University of Minnesota said it was very expensive when traded in countries like Sweden. One of the earliest European cultivation of the medicinal plant occurred in 1608 in Italy and later throughout Europe.
It wasn't until 1778 that it was recorded to be used as a food plant in Europe, when apparently someone in France realized the stalks were edible, but not the roots, leaves or other parts (I cannot vouch for other parts of the world). The French reduced the stalks in a dessert sauce and loved it. The British didn't develop a taste for the product until much later.
In 1770, Benjamin Franklin (once again a food pioneer) sent a case of the roots to John Bartram and this started production in the new world, as a medicine. Major cultivation for food really started in 1777 in Oxfordshire.
Though it was now known as edible, and enjoyed in France, and though it was well established in Britain and America for medicinal purposes and a little for food, the popularity of the plant did not really explode in English-speaking countries until the coronation of Queen Victoria when Myatt introduced his new and, according to History.com, startling variety cultivar, Rheum rhabarbarum.
This cultivar, with large, fat, red, tart and tender stems was so important for plant production it not only finally popularized the plant's edible qualities worldwide in 1837, but it persists today as one of the major cultivars against which others are measured.
Its common name is Victoria rhubarb and it is probably responsible for our love of a vegetable that everyone else mistakes for a fruit, because that's how we use it.
Chicha de Arroz Con Ruibarbo
(A tropical drink from south of the border)
- 4 cups rhubarb
- ½ cup white rice
- ¼ cup sugar
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Water (optional, to taste)
In a pan, combine the rice and rhubarb and add just enough water to cover them by one inch.
Boil this mixture approximately 30 minutes and then remove from the heat.
Either strain all of the solids out and keep the thickened liquid, or process in a blender until smooth and then run through a fine sieve to remove chunks. The first method only produces about one serving of beverage, and the second method produces a very thick drink.
Taste the remaining liquid. If too tart, add sugar until it is pleasantly sweetened. If you plan to add sweetened condensed milk, I recommend reducing the sugar a bit so the tartness comes through.
Add spices and sweetened condensed milk if you want a creamy drink. Chill and serve over ice.
Rhubarb Fool with Strawberries
- 1 pound rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 6 additional tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup vanilla yogurt (optional)
- Granola (optional)
Combine the rhubarb, 1 cup sugar and strawberries in a pan over medium heat with a splash of water. Once this mixture produces its own liquid and begins to simmer, reduce to medium low and cook until the rhubarb softens. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Allow this to cool slightly and then puree until smooth. Refrigerate until cool.
When ready to serve, beat cream, vanilla and 6 tablespoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon ingredients into a glass in layers. Start with vanilla yogurt (if using) and a layer of the fruit mixture, followed by cream, more fruit mixture, cream and granola (if using). Serve cold.