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‘Victoria’ Rhubarb: The Gold Standard

This classic heirloom rhubarb cultivar is prized throughout the world for its superior flavor, color, and size.

| Spring 2017

  • 'Victoria' rhubarb is a superior variety that hasn't been improved upon since its creation over 150 years ago.
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • Cut back rhubarb's flower stalks to keep production up throughout summer.
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • Harvest rhubarb by pulling it from the crown, removing the stem's entire base.
    Photo by Fotolia/Rodimov Pavel

Of the several hundred thousand heirloom vegetable cultivars throughout the world, only a handful qualify as all-time greats, with qualities so universally sought after that they’re prized by gardeners everywhere. Ranking high on this list is ‘Victoria’ rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum). This cultivar has established the gold standard by which to judge good rhubarb: large, fat stems, bright red skin, lack of stringiness, and a tart, apple-gooseberry flavor with a hint of lemon or grapefruit (depending on your soil). Used in jams, fruit tarts, soups and sauces, and even ice cream, rhubarb is probably one of the most adaptable garden crops you can grow. And because it’s a perennial, it will yield years of copious harvests with little trouble and few pests.

Refrigerated Rhubarb Pickles Recipe

Although rhubarb is technically a vegetable, North Americans tend to treat it as a fruit because our view of the plant has been shaped by the sweet and sour desserts of English origin. But beyond English cuisine, rhubarb is used in a wide range of dishes.

‘Victoria,’ Queen of the Kitchen Garden

‘Victoria’ has not been improved upon since its creation almost 175 years ago — a testament to its superiority. The creator of this famous heirloom rhubarb was Joseph Myatt of Manor Farm in Deptford, England, a plant breeder who also created a slew of good strawberries, potatoes, peas, and more. Myatt’s ‘Victoria’ rhubarb was introduced in 1837 in honor of Queen Victoria, and in many ways, his rhubarb came to symbolize the dessert cookery of her reign: rhubarb charlottes, rhubarb fools (similar to a parfait), rhubarb compotes, rhubarb tarts, and even rhubarb wine — none of which would have assumed their place in Victorian cookbooks had there been no ‘Victoria’ to cook with. Horticulturists have often claimed it was ‘Victoria’ that mainstreamed rhubarb cookery in both England and the United States.



Two physical characteristics of ‘Victoria’ that made it stand out from other cultivars were its bright red color and large stems. Older heirloom cultivars tended to have mostly green stems or, like ‘Early Champagne,’ completely green stems. Cooks of the period were familiar with the yellow-stemmed ‘Pineapple’ rhubarb, but yellow rhubarb cultivars often lacked good flavor.

Growing Rhubarb

Rhubarb is usually grown from dormant rootstocks in spring or from potted plants. Plant the rootstocks at least 3 to 4 feet apart after your area’s last frost. The stems and leaves of ‘Victoria’ are big — some as long as 4 feet — so you’ll need to give the plants plenty of room. When harvesting, gently pull the stem from the crown area of the root so that you remove the stem’s base. Cutting off the stems with a knife leaves a stump to rot and perhaps introduce damaging insects to the plant. By pulling off the entire stem, you’ll actually create a spot for more leaves to form, so you can maintain production throughout summer.



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