Rhubarb is a plant that can pretty much grow anywhere, but it took centuries for people to figure out it was edible. The leaves are toxic and the stalks are sour, and it was considered a weed, thriving in places like Siberia. And it traveled.
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Things started changing sometime in the 17th century when enterprising Britains realised that the fleshy stalks of the plant taste quite nice when dipped in sugar, which had recently begun to be imported to the country in mass quantities. Even with this knowledge, however, it would take another century for Britains to begin cultivating the plant for mass culinary purposes, at which point they realised that- holy crap rhubarb is basically the only thing that loves British weather.
Specifically, it’s noted that rhubarb thrives in cold, wet weather which, jokey stereotypes aside, is pretty much what the weather is like in Britain for several months of the year. In addition, it’s noted that rhubarb grows especially well in nitrogen rich soil which is also quite handily found in abundance in Britain.
It became rather popular in Britain. The farmers of what became known as the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle experimented and found that rhubarb can actually be a good thing to eat if you torture it enough. They subject it to frost, cover it with manure, and make it grow in the dark. You have to wonder what kind of experimentation led to such a discovery. Read the story of how the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle came about at Today I Found Out.
(Image credit: Kellen)