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Monday
Apr262010

Relishing Rhubarb

Learning to Love It
I love rhubarb now, but I haven’t always. When I was a child, rhubarb was the one fruit we had more of than we needed, so my mother was always finding ways to “use it up,” a phrase one should not use around children when referring to food you want them to like. Yes, there’s something about having an abundance of something that makes it seem ordinary and boring, or maybe even yucky.

But then I married a man who loved anything rhubarb. He grew up in a home without a mother grew things or baked things—or used things up, for that matter—so rhubarb treats were a rare thing. Instead of birthday cake, he’d request a rhubarb pie with half the called-for sugar. He was someone who relished his rhubarb.

For the first years of our marriage, we had no supply of fresh rhubarb, which meant that birthday pie was the only rhubarb we ate, and even that took some careful planning to accomplish. Struggling to have something can turn the ordinary into something cherished, and before long, I was anticipating the birthday pie as much as he was. I was starting to relish my rhubarb, too.

While it was it’s scarcity that made me love it more, I think rhubarb is also an acquired taste. Nothing else is quite like it, and it’s very tart. A Korean student I knew learned to stomach almost every North American food except rhubarb; even the sound of the word caused her face to crinkle up. Rhubarb was an acquired taste she had no intention acquiring. (I could sympathize: It turns out I felt the same way about her Korean fish soup.)

One of the first things we did when we bought our home was plant a little rhubarb patch in the garden. The Yukon, with it’s cool summers, is perfect for rhubarb production. Despite periods of -45C weather in the winter, my strawberry rhubarb keeps coming back bigger as long as I divide it every few years.

Now I have rhubarb—lots of rhubarb. Since I love it prepared in several different ways, I never get to the point of looking for ways to use it up. I like it as sauce mixed in vanilla yogurt for breakfast, as juice mixed with club soda for a refreshing hot-weather drink, in rhubarb crisp and rhubarb pie, and mixed with strawberries in pie or jam.

A True History of Rhubarb Pie
Speaking of pie, did you know that George Washington’s mother wasn’t baking up rhubarb pies after she lost her supply of fresh cherries? Nope, rhubarb didn’t even arrive here from Europe until at least 1790. So when I called rhubarb a North-American food, I wasn’t really right.

Rhubarb isn’t native to Europe, either, but came there through the influence of Marco Polo, who wrote about it when he travelled through China. It is, you see, a plant native only to China, and they didn’t use their rhubarb for food. Nope, they used it—and I quote—for “its purgative qualities.” (You probably don’t want to tell your children that. That’d be about as useful as telling them you need to find a way to “use it up.”)

At first the Europeans used their rhubarb as as a purgative, too, but by the late 1700s, it was  also used as food. That change came about, I’m told, when 18th century teen said—and I quote, “How about this prank? Let’s bake some of this laxative in a pie shell and feed it to our friends.” And there it was: the  invention of the rhubarb pie and the laxative-in-baked-goods prank all in one shebang.

Celebrating the Season
Right now it’s rhubarb season—for some of you, anyway. My own rhubarb won’t be ready to pick until June, but the snow’s off the garden; I’ve ordered a new garden tiller; and I can see the light at the end of the rhubarb-free zone.

I’d planned, at first, to let this post stand alone as my way of making this year’s rhubarb season. I’d just wrap everything up, I’d thought, by posting links to all the rhubarb recipes and that would be that. But as it turns out, I had plenty to say about rhubarb, and maybe you do too. We all know a celebration is more  fun when everyone participates.  

So here’s the deal: If you’ve got a rhubarb related opinion, story or recipe, leave it in the comments here or  put in a post on your own blog. I want to know everything: Do you like rhubarb? How do you like your rhubarb served? If you bake rhubarb pie, what’s your recipe? What other rhubarb recipes do you use? Do you have old posts with recipes that call for rhubarb? (Just remember to give me the links to any posts. Technorati is now useless for tracking that sort of thing.) Then come back Thursday when I’ll gather it all together in one post and we’ll all commemorate the season together.

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Reader Comments (6)

I like to add dried blueberries to my rhubarb sauce. YUM!

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkim from hiraeth

Rhubarb crisp is yummy! My mother had a patch out in the back of almost every house we lived in, and my brothers and I would just go and eat it raw!

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim in ON

I love rhubarb crisp. But I don't like all the sugar that it takes in order to make the rhubarb sweet.

When we were growing up on the farm, we had lotsa rhubarb. We also had a small strawberry patch and strawberries never went far enough at our dinner table. So we made a lot or rhubarb sauce with strawberries cooked in. Made 'em go farther. Put that sauce on a square of homemade yellow cake, add whipped cream, and you have heaven here on earth. Almost.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

Our grandmother had a huge rhubard patch in back of her garage and I remember we used to pick it and dip it in brown sugar and eat. Some of our friends used to dip it in salt instead of brown sugar. I remember it was so very delicious. Remember washing it using the backyard garden hose. Of course did not eat the leaves as they are poison to humans, but eatable for the Deer. .....lKaren, Monrovia, CA

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

A celebration of rhubarb! What a fun idea! Here's the address to my post on the subject:

http://fieldstonecottage.blogspot.com/2010/04/rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb.html

Thanks, Rebecca!

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy

Thanks, Dorothy. I'll be linking tomorrow.

April 28, 2010 | Registered Commenterrebecca

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