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Rhubarb: The role of Edinburgh in its cultivation and development [pdf] (rcpe.ac.uk)
50 points by DanBC on May 1, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments

I've lived in the midwest all of my life, and grew up eating Rhubarb Pie that my grandmother made. The Rhubarb she used was from her garden, and is likely the decedent of my original German homestead family from several generation back.

Recently I've come to learn that Rhubarb is not native. Which was surprising to me because I see it everywhere. It came over from our European immigrants and has been hanging out ever since.

Last spring I was hiking in a forest in ND, and came across a beautiful patch of rhubarb. This got me thinking -- where did this patch of Rhubarb come from? If all local Rhubarb eventually can be traced back to the mother plant brought over from Europe as immigrants made their way west, could we use genetic markers to trace individual patches back to specific homesteads, and ultimately to specific counties of origin in Europe? This kind of thing fascinates me.

According to the linked article, the plant originally came from China. So in theory, only part of the story would be told by linking a patch back to Europe. You could continue to trace back all the way to China.

The group is Himalayan if I'm not wrong. Is a mountain plant.

For me it was always a frustrating species, very reluctant to grow and prone to death sentence by slug.

"Gregory was notoriously argumentative and after a quarrel with a fellow academic, Professor Hamilton, he smote him to the ground with his stick. Summoned to court he was found guilty of assault and fined £100 (a considerable amount in those days). He had the last word, however. On paying his fine, he said that ‘He would willingly pay double to be allowed to repeat the assault’."

If the Russians had a virtual monopoly until the late 1700s, it's interesting that the plant spread so fast. My grandparents told stories about their parents enjoying rhubarb, and they were certainly not wealthy.

So rhubarb went from something you'd send to the Pope to curry favor, to a very common plant in the gardens of the poor, in less than a century.

It's very easy to grow, and quite prolific once established. I have two plants, and with no effort on my part I can harvest 10lbs or more from each every year.

Sadly, no mention of rhubarb pie, which I'd never had before moving to the southern U.S.:


The wikipedia page also mentions what seems like a important tidbit: the stalks remain toxic if frostbitten.

In Michigan, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie is pretty common and available at any larger grocery store year round. Plain rhubarb pie (which is superior in my opinion) is much less common but still available upon request from most bakeries. Similarly, my family has "Rhubarb Crunch", basically an Apple Crisp using rhubarb instead of apples, at every major family gathering in the summer.

Oops, I didn't mean to imply it's unique to the south, just that I'd never had it growing up in Miami. The delicacy there (which has no equal) is key-lime pie. :-)

I remember how ubiquitous it was in Michigan as well. I grow it here in central Wisconsin, but it doesn't seem part of the cultural landscape as in Michigan.

It also makes tremendous wine, especially when blended with Grigio.

Apple-rhubarb (or pear-rhubarb) crisp is also great!

I'm surprised you had it in the Southern U.S. since only in the last 5 years or so has it started appearing in grocery stores here in Texas. Growing up, my mom used to serve rhubarb pie to guests (she got the rhubarb and froze it when my grandparents visited from Wisconsin) and unless the guests were also from northern states they usually treated it like a curiosity they'd never encountered before.

We had rhubarb pie in Australia which is even farther south! I liked it as a kid in part because otherwise our pies had meat in them.

Rhubarb crumble is what I had growing up. I just baked one today in fact.

In Yorkshire, UK, my mum used to make that pretty often. Of course it helped that we had Rhubarb growing in our garden.

Nowadays I live in Finland, and I was recently pleased to see some wild rhubarb growing in a local park. I'm planning on harvesting some of it later in the summer.

My wife's family, which is from York County, Pennsylvania, makes rhubarb pie. York County isn't very far north, but the Mason-Dixon line is its southern border.

X and rhubarb pie, where X is any kind of fruit or berry, is a staple pie variety in Maine, so it's not exclusive to the South.

Ditto Minnesota.

We used to eat rhubarb pie at family shindigs in (upstate-ish) New York -- definitely not an exclusively southern thing!

From the family stories I have heard, my great-grandmother raised rhubarb, so my grandmother had it because my grandfather was used to it. I was encouraged to take a stalk whenever I wanted growing up, which, at times, was twice daily.

As for location, I grew up in Illinois, my grandmother was from Arkansas, and my grandfather and his mother, while being from Illinois, traced their family roots back to Pennsylvania Dutch.

I still prefer the raw stalk to anything else.

I love the etymology whereby 'barb' in 'rhubarb' means 'barbarian'—because from the Greeks' point of view, only barbarians would eat it.


I remember rhubarb and Icelandic poppies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papaver_nudicaule) were among the few introduced perennials that prospered in Anchorage, Alaska.

Its funny because Ive never seen anything at the Botanics in Edinburgh about this aspect of its history, and i spend a lot of time there

Also no mention of roobarb and custard -


There's something particularly satisfying about this submission combining rhubarb and Edinburgh, either of which would make for a fine offbeat HN post in its own right. Maybe value grows quadratically with the number of such inputs.

One of my favourite photographs is this one:


I was told it's from Gloucestershire in the 1930s, but I have no way of knowing if that's true.

I can't get my head round their shoes.

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