This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
To the child of twenty years since, the word Rhubarb was suggestive of anything rather than the most delicious pastry. And when late in the season, wanting the brisk-flavored, aromatic Spitzenberg or Newtown Pippin for a refreshing dietetic pie, which a dinner of roast beef always calls for - and these could not be had - the small, tough, stringy, footstalks of the old Turkey Rhubarb came to be used as a bad substitute. But the "change of the name" to "pie plant" did not work a "change in the thing," nor could the skill of the pastry cook so far obscure the flavor and odor peculiar to the root of that variety, with which the stalks are always in some degree flavored, that the idea of the apothecary's shop was not always too sensibly present at its use.
John Bull, perceiving the rudiments of great excellence in this candidate for the cuisine, and stimulated by his wants, resolved to attempt by cultivation and improvement to obliterate the forbidding feature of its character. Of the steps taken in the progress of amelioration, and the names of varieties produced, no mention need at present be made, until we come to the "Victoria," which was originated by Mr. Myatt, of Deptford. This fully realized the highest hopes entertained of its improvement; having no vestige of offensive odor, of gigantic size, and very productive. It was largely imported, and very highly valued; still it was covered with a thick skin which was some trouble to remove, and was rather troublesomely acid, besides Coming much later than some of the smaller varieties.
The next great improvement was in a variety originated by Mr. Charles Downing, at Newburg. It was named Downing's Colossal; and in addition to its great size, and much less degree of acidity, it had a fine, rich, aromatic flavor, in which it greatly surpassed all predecessors. This, too, has been surpassed by Mr. Myatt, in the " Linneas," whose excellence in every important characteristic has placed it for the last four or five years in rank far before any other variety - Mr. Downing himself, greatly preferring it to the Colossal, which is its nearest competitor, and to which it has a strong resemblance. Besides being the earliest of all, and most productive, as well as finest flavored, and least acid, it has a skin so thin that removing it is quite unnecessary, and its pulp when stewed has the uniform consistence of baked Rhode Island Greening, and it continues equally crisp and tender throughout summer and early autumn.
Although the cultivation of Rhubarb for market is quite simple, it has some wants that must be complied with to secure a profitable crop. It delights in a rather retentive soil, but is so much earlier in a dry, light, or porous soil, that opinions would differ as to the most advantageous. The ground must be well manured, and if well worked with a plough, to the depth of eighteen inches, a very remunerative crop may be obtained, ranging at from two hundred to four hundred dollars per acre, in the latitude of New York. As earliness is important, a locality more southern would be advantageous.
To obtain the best results, more care and expense than just indicated are required. If the ground is deeply worked, (to the depth of three feet,) and well enriched, the quantity produced per acre is almost incredible - but at least three times as much as can be obtained by ploughing alone - with the farther advantages of some days in earliness, as well as superiority of quality, in favor of trenched ground.
A plan which I adopted a few years since, may perhaps be advantageous under similar circumstances. I trenched a field of nearly an acre for Pears. In such cases the ground needs cultivation, and should be occupied, until the trees require it all, by some crop that does "not injure the trees, or exhaust the ground for their future use. I found the Rhubarb a very pleasant and profitable occupant of the spare room, and not sensibly injurious to the Fears. The cultivation may be done by the horse cultivator in early spring, but soon the leaves of the Rhubarb will so cover the ground that a little pulling of weeds will be all that can be required.
For a few years past, supply and demand have both been rapidly increasing, and with about equal pace. The best methods of preparing it for the table, either for pies or sauce for meat, or as a stewed fruit for the tea table, like the Tomato, requires some skill and judgment on the part of the housewife, for if its acidity is entirely overcome by simple refined sugar, it becomes too rich or concentrated for free and abundant use, which when well understood will be no more restricted throughout the entire year than that of the Tomato; and when its preparation and use are as well understood, it will not be esteemed second to that Fruit in usefulness, nor be absent many days in the year from the table where it is known. I do not hazard much in putting forth the opinion, that as a tonic, dietetic aperient, it has no equal. On the great western prairie, and wherever acid fruits are not abundant, it will be invaluable.
The chief feature in the produce around London, tending towards market, is carts in inconceivable numbers, loaded with Rhubarb, even there during the short season of the Gooseberry, eclipsing that of its competitor, which there in its perfection has an excellence to us unknown.