This particular rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) was the first to be cultivated in Scotland and is still cultivated in the same place to this day.
The mansion of Prestonfield was built in 1687 by the celebrated architect Sir William Bruce of Kinross for Sir James Dick, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1679 to 1681 during which time he used his own money to clean up the filthy streets of Edinburgh. The resulting by-product was spread on his lands at Prestonfield.
His grandson, Sir Alexander Dick, who inherited the mansion in 1746, was the President of the Royal College of Physicians, in Edinburgh, and staked his medical reputation on rhubarb. Dr. Mounsey of St. Petersburg is thought to have brought him the seeds of True Rhubarb from Russia and Dick was first to cultivate rhubarb in Scotland – probably the earliest crusader of its pharmaceutical value. Prestonfield became famous throughout the country for its rhubarb. In 1774 The London Society for Promoting Arts and Commerce even presented Dick with a gold medal for "the best specimen of rhubarb."
Prestonfield House is now a private hotel with many interesting architectural features and fine timbers and carvings. The rhubarb is grown in their walled garden where the chefs have access to it and the diners enjoy it. Thanks to their enthusiasm they are growing grow more in order to share it with the local community.
Rhubarb is grown primarily for its fleshy stalks. The use of rhubarb stems as food was first recorded in 17th century after affordable sugar became available. With the addition of sugar it has a deliciously soft, fibrous and not too acidic flavour. Every varietal has its own distinctive flavour. It can be used for sweet and savoury dishes.
Commonly, it is stewed with sugar or used in pies and desserts, but it can also be put into savory dishes. The stalks are cut into small pieces and stewed (boiled in water) with added sugar, until soft. Little water is added, as rhubarb stalks already contain a great deal of water. Spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg can be added. It is also made into jams, often with a pinch of ginger.