I love rhubarb. I love its texture, its tartness, the brightness it lends to a strawberry rhubarb pie. In fact, skip the strawberries and let’s just have a rhubarb pie. And rhubarb muffins. Rhubarb crème brûlée. Rhubarb compote on ice cream and inside crêpes. Rhubarb dipped in sugar and munched on like celery. If there’s rhubarb in it, I want it. All of it. Because one can never have too much rhubarb.

Of course, like all good children of Yorkshire parents, my love of rhubarb began at home, in our garden. Despite raising her family in Canada away from her native land, my green-thumbed mother grew huge rhubarb plants. I remember the leaves of those things being wider than I could stretch my arms. I can still taste my first raw, unsweetened piece of rhubarb. I’m sure my mother enjoyed the scrunched up expression on my face. ‘How on earth could this be in my favorite muffins?’ I would ponder as my sisters and I would giggle at our hats made from the gargantuan leaves. Rhubarb is one of my culinary happy places.

Though native to Siberia, rhubarb is a part of my edible heritage. Wakefield, England, my mother’s hometown, is part of the Rhubarb Triangle which produces 90% of the world’s forced rhubarb. A technique developed in the 1800s, rhubarb is planted there in fields and allowed to grow for two years. Then, after exposure to frost, it is moved indoors to sheds where it grows in total darkness from November to January. Throughout February, the crimson stalks are harvested only by candlelight as to prevent the hault of growth. By March, the root stock in completely exhausted and composted. But this technique creates a more tender harvest which is both shipped worldwide and showcased at the local Rhubarb Festival.

As this culinary wonder thrives in cool, wet environments, growing rhubarb in Texas presents quite a challenge. In my first attempt, I lovingly plopped some crowns from Home Depot into a partially shady spot and figured that would be enough. After all, my mother’s plants seemed to grow like a weed without any care at all. (I obviously spent more time playing with the leaves than paying attention to what she was doing.) The crowns sent up shoots and I starting listing all the delectable things I would make with it. A few weeks later, a hot Texas spring cooked my little plant. To death. Oh, you mean I have to water it? Such a novice.

Well, I’m still a novice, but my rhubarb growing efforts are slowly improving. The new crowns I planted last year are happily growing again in the greenhouse.


By stashing them under my porch last summer, I managed to keep them alive throughout the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. Like asparagus, you don’t start harvesting rhubarb until the plant is in its second year to allow root establishment. My mother has told me stories of her grandfather growing it under an overturned bucket which I suppose would work much like the forcing sheds. One of the established crowns will be getting such treatment so I can compare the results.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also planted some Glaskin Perpetual Rhubarb seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Thirty-five baby rhubarb starts are now happily getting their true leaves in the greenhouse as I write this.


My intention is to plant them throughout the wooded areas on our property to evaluate under which conditions they will best thrive. I look forward to all the science and nostalgia involved in growing them.

For anyone who has never tried rhubarb, you simply must. Though the beautiful stalks are sour on their own, sweetened they are incomparable. Be warned, however, that the leaves are high in oxalic acid (read: poisonous) so leave them for hat or umbrella making. Rhubarb stalks can often be found in the spring among the vegetables in the produce section. While stalks do not necessarily have to be red to be delicious, they do need to be firm. If you live in a cooler climate, you may even be able to find it growing wild. If that is the case, know that I am very, very jealous.

If you happen to be a rhubarb growing expert, especially in hot climates, I desperately need any wisdom you can throw in my direction! Or you know, just a fresh baked rhubarb pie…


5 thoughts on “Rhubarb

  1. I grow my rhubarb along a west wall – it does extremely well – I harvest it (read chop down) three or four times a season and simply freeze it, cubed in bags. I do know it does not like to be ‘wet’. The roots can simply drown. My plants are in a gravel/soil mix that drains well. 😊

  2. Last year our friend gave us pounds and pounds of rhubarb which my husband canned. I was thrilled at the bounty! It is such a special treat. Last month I got a rhubarb plant as a gift and it is already showing some green! Thanks for the super information it got me all excited again!!!

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