Marco Polo went to China to find where it was grown. An importer's list from that time might include it with other precious items brought along the Silk Road: "silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls and rhubarb." My own great-grandmother, Mary Alice Walden (née Beebe), an herbalist and midwife in the town of Bridal Veil in the Columbia Gorge, may well have used it to treat patients suffering from constipation.
I loved it so much I was even known to eat stalks raw in the springtime, making hats out of the large leaves, a fashion statement I've passed on to my nephew (top photo). He was the one who reminded me (or was it insisted?) that I needed to make rhubarb syrup when he saw several stalks sitting on the counter. Used in his favorite beverage last summer, what choice did I have but to comply?
The recipe below should get you on the road to more rhubarb indulgence, though I'll leave the decision about headgear up to you.
Several rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2" pieces (redder rhubarb makes a more intensely colored syrup)
Place chopped rhubarb in saucepan and add just enough water to barely cover the pieces. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook over low heat until rhubarb is tender, 20 min. Strain through fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth, pressing gently to release the liquid. If you want a completely clear syrup it might take more than one filtering. Discard the solids. Measure or weigh the remaining liquid and add an equal amount of sugar. Heat the syrup in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Chill.
To make a rhubarb soda, half-fill a tall glass with ice and pour in a small amount of rhubarb syrup (more syrup will make a sweeter drink—we like ours on the subtle side). Add soda and stir. Garnish with mint sprig if desired.