Invest in Stalks

Photo from @gettyimages via @saveurmag

Photo from @gettyimages via @saveurmag

Happy Pi Day everyone! Today we trace this iconic contemporary pie ingredient back to long before it shot up as a pastry mainstay.

The earliest records of rhubarb cultivation date back to 2700 BC, in China. Then, it was a medicine, and there are no known culinary applications for the rhubarb plant until sugar was widely and cheaply available.

And though it's stately stalks seem puzzling for the culinary novice of today, rhubarb's impressive past of international trade routes and conflicts are rarely examined. Ancient Greeks named the plant rha barbaron, a combination of two words meaning roughly "not from around these parts." Barbaron shares the same root as barbarian, which originally signified a group that was, quite broadly, "foreign." For the time, this was a fitting name for a plant that arrived in the West with its origins cloaked by its long travels on the Silk Road.

Later, in an open letter to Queen Victoria immediately preceding the First Opium War, China's appointed scholar Lin Zixu implicated rhubarb with the term barbarian, once again. This time, he referred to the West from the Chinese perspective, stating: "Take tea and rhubarb, for example; the foreign countries cannot get along for a single day without them. If China cuts off these benefits with no sympathy for those who are to suffer, then what can the barbarians rely upon to keep themselves alive?"

So with the constant turmoil and trade of its past, the rhubarb plant may he a good reminder to by stalk in something you can trust. Happy pi day!


Info from The Rhubarb Compendium, Saveur, Harvard/Digital China collection, and University of MN.

Liz PearComment