A Botanical illustration and Fond Childhood Memories.

Remembering Rhubarb.

As I prepared my rhubarb illustration (Rheum rhabarbarum) for the “Digging In” gardening column I thought back to my childhood home and the rhubarb patch in our garden. We had a lovely big garden -by garden I also mean “yard” , as it is known here in the U.S. Half was well tended and half semi-wild. The rhubarb patch was in a sunny spot near a rather neglected corner: a transition area between tended and wild, where an old, fallen-down green house was “home” to a long-suffering apricot tree. The tree is long dead but at that time it struggled on with little protection from the elements. The glass panes and many of the window frames had long ago fallen to the ground.

I was told to stay out of this part of the garden because of the broken glass barely hidden in the weeds. I obviously forgot the warning as I can remember falling and cutting my knee badly on a shard of glass. I was four years of age. Our family doctor came and, tweezers in hand, gently removed grit lodged deep in the cut.  I don’t remember crying or feeling pain but to this day I have a hard lump the size and shape of a small limpid shell on my knee. This incident, rather than putting me off, made that part of the garden- and rhubarb- more memorable and interesting.

Rhubarb Tarts.

I looked forward to rhubarb season each year. My mother would send me, or one of my siblings, out to pick enough stems for a couple of tarts. With six children to feed she baked every day and always several tarts at a time. I loved those rhubarb tarts. Every now and again we were given a precious rhubarb stem to chew raw. The favorite eating method was dipping it into a cup of sugar to sweeten the tartness.

Rhubarb- Fruit or Vegetable?

At first I thought of rhubarb as a curious, old-fashioned fruit. This no doubt was due to its popularity in my home as a tart filling and the copious amounts of sugar added to sweeten it. Later I learned that rhubarb is not a fruit but a vegetable.

An Interesting History.

Rhubarb has a long and interesting history. Its original use was as a medicine. As far back as 2,700 B.C.E  the Chinese used its roots as a powerful purgative. Marco Polo first brought the dried root to Europe where, by the 16th century, it was considered a valuable plant because of its use against venereal diseases. It wasn’t until 1778 that the French started eating the rhubarb stem in pies and tarts.

Rhubarb Time Again.

It is almost that time of year again and I’m wishing I had remembered to get a division of rhubarb from my friend. She has offered it to me many times. Rhubarb is best transplanted between late fall and early spring. The season is several weeks early this year in the Willamette valley so I will wait until the fall to get the division promised by my friend. In the meantime I’ll shall resort to begging or buying to satisfy my appetite for this curious, old “fruit”.

Aislinn Adams

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