and so it goes … the rhubarb story

 Finally – I have rhubarb in my garden courtesy of my parents prolific rhubarb plants. Last month I mentioned to my parents that I'd like a small chunk of one of their rhubarb plants.Rhubarbe-cachée-dans-les-fe I love watching rhubarb grow and love eating it. More importantly though, I wanted to have a part of their beloved garden in mine. That same day, my dad arrived bearing a big chunk (pictured here). I was so pleased and decided immediately to plant it among the roses and the Black Elder bush growing in the front garden. Rhubarb likes sun and that seemed the best place.

Suddenly I found myself rethinking my front garden. These days, I have been preoccupied by the question Michael Pollan so bluntly asked in his book In Defence of Food: Do you know where your food comes from? Rather a simple question I thought until I began thinking carefully about all the foodstuffs we eat. So I am determined to grow more of my own food. I'm starting small this year and adding several herbs and veggies to my front garden. Next year, I will rent a plot in a community garden and start a bigger vegetable garden.

What's not to love about rhubarb? It grows incredibly well in this harsh climate, faithfully appearing every spring. I love walking the dog down our back lane and looking at all the rhubarb growing in so many gardens and in the lane.

What I especially love though, is having long-held memories come floating back. I can so clearly remember my mother picking rhubarb and presenting us with short stalks and a small bowl of sugar. In those days, our sugar consumption was pretty limited, so this was a treat of monumental proportions. My older sister and brother and I would lick the end of the rhubarb and carefully twirl it in the sugar. We'd spend what then seemed an eternity slowly sucking on the sugar as it mingled with the rather tart taste of the rhubarb. It was a little glimpse of heaven for each of us. And then we returned to our play.

When my dad presented me with some huge rhubarb stalks (60 cm/2 feet long) on Wednesday,Croustade-rhubarbe-et-frais I immediately knew what I would do with them. I made a rhubarb and strawberry crisp (pictured here), liberally flavoured with cardamon, mace, ginger. cinnamon and nutmeg. I added some unsweetened coconut and a handful of walnuts to the oats, flour and brown sugar mixture. The aromas wafting through the kitchen helped ease the work of wet vacuuming the downstairs carpet, flooded from all of the rain we've had.

I'm looking forward to sharing this dessert with my friend Kerry tonight – another big rhubarb fan. Served with plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream – a wonderful taste experience.

40 thoughts on “and so it goes … the rhubarb story

  1. Cis says:

    Mmmm Rhubarb. Love it! I’ve two plants in my yard.
    I’ve started my garden with vegetables (as I wanted real veggies grown in earth!) and will add flowers as I go along. Flowers help bring those pollinators in!
    My garden is coming along nicely despite the cool wet weather … with the odd exception … like the beans and basil.

  2. nikkipolani says:

    It’s true, then! Everyone is talking about rhubarb! I’m growing more stuff, too, though space and time for attentive care (to remove voracious caterpillars) is in short supply.

  3. Judith says:

    I had no idea you grew rhubarb on your side of the pond-it’s wonderful stuff, isn’t it? I shared the same childhood experience of dipping the stalks into bowls of sugar, and still remember that the rhubarb’s tartness won!

  4. Teeni says:

    MMMM -That dessert looks so delicious and I’m not even a big rhubarb fan. But I can see why you would be with such comforting memories. And it is too cool that your dad brought you some from their garden. I’m so sorry you’ve been dealing with flooding on top of everything else. That is fantastic that you will be growing more of your food at home. I wish I could plant more at home but we live in a more populated area with smaller yards. There are no community gardens that I know of in the area but I’ll have to look into things more. Did you read that book by Michael Pollan? I saw him give a speech when he was in the area (I did a post about it – don’t know if you saw it). I still have to read the book but boy did his speech make me think about things and they all made so much sense.

  5. Sandy says:

    My mouth is watering! I love rhubarb, and have had it in my garden for over twenty years. My first plant was started from seed, but since then, I have bought another root to go with it.
    I grew up in a family rich in vegetables and fruit. Of course, I did not appreciate that until I was older. My mom could never get rhubarb to go in Oklahoma, though. Probably now, they have a variety for hotter climates.

  6. Annie in Austin says:

    What a great passalong plant – one that has memories, is edible, and has a great presence in the garden!
    All three of my Illinois gardens had a rhubarb plant growing in them, Kate – also a passalong. I can remember my grandmother & parents growing it. But although good old “Pie Plant” can take lots of cold, it can’t thrive in climates where its big roots don’t get a long, cold resting period…very much like peonies, which also don’t grow here.
    The dipping of stalks into sugar is a new one! Rhubarb was cut into chunks, stewed and ladled on top of cereal for breakfast and once in awhile baked into a strawberry-rhubarb pie.
    May your rhubarb grow big and bouncy!
    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It is great that you now have a big hunk of your parents garden in your front garden Kate. You made me hungry describing the rhubarb pie you made. I can almost smell it. I hope your flooding woes are short lived.

  8. Irena says:

    rhubarb with strawberries is simply divine. Mmmmm. Good for you for planning to grow more of your own food. I always used to plant a tomato or two in among my perennials. This year I got serious and put in two raised beds for vegetables. It’s a lot of work but well worth it. I did a happy dance today when i saw my first wee, green tomato on the vine. Hope you enjoy many a happy dance too.
    Cheers.
    Irena

  9. gina says:

    kate – I love the way rhubarb looks and I’ve been trying to find a spot for one in my garden.
    I recently saw a video that show’d how to make a birdbath out of rhubarb leaf. It was very cool!

  10. Barbara says:

    How I love rhubarb! And when reading your post I got “hungry”…sounds so delicious, the way you prepare it. BTW, the story with the rhubarb sticks and sugar brings memories back from my childhood too 🙂 !!! Here goes the saying that after June 24, one shouldn’t harvest rhubarb any more. So I still have a chance to make something out of my rhubarb in my garden….
    Have a wonderful Sunday!
    Barbara

  11. pRiyA says:

    So this is what rhubarb, that everyone talks about, looks like. the first time i had it, i simply could not appreciate the strange taste. the second time it was given to me heavily disguised in some strawberry, creamy thing and that was better. i’m still wary about it though.
    but i have to admit that it is a beautiful plant.

  12. Mary says:

    My stomach was growling before I stopped by for a visit. Now, I’m downright desperate for a slice of pie! Thanks, Kate!

  13. Connie says:

    I can almost taste that rhubarb dessert. It is one of my favorites….I love the tartness! We had several huge plantings in N.Dak. but I haven’t tried growing it here.

  14. Beth says:

    Ah, rhubarb is one of my dad’s favorite. I don’t have any but the last time I was at my parent’s house I saw the plant languishing there and thought about plucking it to take home. You’ve inspired me fully now!
    We have several recipes for using rhubarb in desserts. Cherries are especially good with it too.

  15. Aiyana says:

    Although I’ve had rhubarb now and then, it’s not something I seek out. It’s never found on restaurant menus, and not many people seem to use it as a veggie side dish. Seems it’s always used for a dessert. Perhpaps if it was more readily available, I’d have it more. (My husband won’t touch it–so that’s also a disincentive to buy any.) Perhaps I could try your recipe and not tell him the main ingredient and see if he likes it!
    Aiyana

  16. jardineira aprendiz says:

    That is a wise choice to grow one’s own food! This is a plant I don’t know very well, and never tasted, I think few people cultivate it in Portugal, maybe because it is water demanding (?)
    I wish I could taste this dessert too!

  17. Selma says:

    Love rhubarb. When I was a little girl living in Glasgow, Scotland my Grandmother used to grow rhubarb. She used to give us a little brown paper bag full of sugar, we used to dip the freshly-picked rhubarb into the sugar and munch away happily. This post has brought back so many happy memories. Now I have a hankering for some rhubarb and apple pie. Mmmmmmm.

  18. Sarah Laurence says:

    Kate, I’m sorry to admit I’m not a rhubarb fan. It’s so sour! In a pie mixed with sweet apples or strawberries and lots of ice cream, it’s okay but why not just skip the rhubarb? My mother in law makes a rhubarb-ginger pie that is very strong. I think you have to grow up with it as my English husband likes it. I do get the appeal, though, of hearty plants that can grow up north. It is fun to look at – almost prehistoric as it gets so big. I like how your post goes from the garden to the table. Enjoy!

  19. Layanee says:

    Rhubarb…love it or hate it but you’ve gotta admire those leaves! I am now inspired to make a rhubarb crisp! Yours looks so delicious! I want to see your red shoes! LOL

  20. Caroline Crayon says:

    Hi Kate,
    I love that image of “having part of their garden in mine.” I can relate to that so well. Both of my dear parents are gone now, and I miss their wild garden of native Wisconsinian (?) plants.
    Rhubarb is a wonder. I like the way you tied it into the Pollan book.

  21. Karen says:

    I can understand the desire to recreate a happy event from the past in the now. I have done that with chives – my pot of chives has moved house 3 times.
    Growing food is so lovely, (especially among flowers!)
    Warm regards
    Karen

  22. PG says:

    Welcome to the obsessive world of veg gardening! Our entire (small) back garden is a veg patch, which doesn’t leave any room for nice flowers…alas.

  23. Rowan says:

    I love rhubarb too and like you have memories from childhood of my cousins and I sitting in their garden with a saucer of sugar and a stick of rhubarb each. Your rhubarb and strawberry crisp sound wonderful with all those spices. I think I might give it a try.

  24. Heavy Petal says:

    Hi Kate! I love rhubarb too. Wish I had room for it on my balcony. Glad to see you’ve been bitten by the food-growing bug! It’s addictive.

  25. Simon Kirby says:

    Hi Kate. We did that sugar thing as kids too. My mum’s a Yorkshire girl – world rhubarb capital. I made some splendid wine one year, but crumble’s also good, with custard of course.
    It’s an attractive plant too, don’t you think? Mine grows by the allotment pond as much for show as anything else.
    Simon

  26. Gardenista says:

    I think that the flower bed is a great place for rhubarb. It always looks so great! I’ve replaced alot of my flower pots with veggies and herbs this year. It feels like a good thing to do. Besides, I got some pretty herbs, like the purple ruffled-leaf basil. Next year I’ll start it earlier though, because it grows slowly. There are lots of pretty herbs!

  27. laura says:

    I’d love it if someone gave me some rhubarb for my condo garden…it it easily transplanted? My nasturtiums are finally blooming and for this I am grateful!

  28. Yolanda Elizabet says:

    Such a lovely story about rhubarb, Kate! Like you I have a lifelong love for rhubarb although I never ate the stems raw dipped in sugar. I’m having rhubarb tonight for desert, cooked in a bit of fresh orange juice with a stick of cinnamon and some brown sugar. Yummy! Your rhubarb looks great, it’s clear that it likes being in your garden.
    It’s wonderful to read that you will be starting a veg garden next year, it’s really great news and I’m sure you will love growing your own veggies and fruit, just as I do. 🙂

  29. Paige Stanton says:

    Rhubarb is my nemises. I have 5 plants in my backyard, 2 would be plenty, but do you think I can kill it? No, I’ve even driven over it with the lawnmower!
    I’ve got a beautiful pic of an orange Gazania up my my site, come and have a look see if you’ve got a sec.

  30. Miranda Bell says:

    Hi Kate – you and me too – I love Rhubarb – growing and eating it! I think it comes fairly equal in the stakes with Gooseberrys! Both do very well in a crumble too. I reckon that in time with the continued rise in prices of fuel and bad economy world wide that more and more people will turn to growing their own produce and what better place to start than with Rhubarb! Have a great weekend Miranda

  31. Judy says:

    My grandfather had 3 huge black walnut trees at his house when I was growing up. After he and my grandmother passed away and the house was sold and was going to be turned into a parking lot, my father picked up some of the walnuts. My grandparent’s house was in Tennessee and my father took the walnuts back to his place in Texas and planted them. Today he has half dozen black walnut trees on his property.
    When I had a house and yard I got one of the seedlings and planted it. Unfortunately I sold the place and am now living in an apartment, but I do understand the “passing it along” sentiment.

  32. Cheryl says:

    Gosh Kate that rhubarb and strawberry crisp made my mouth water…..
    Ihave been aware of food miles for a long time. A year ago I joined a scheme….all my produce is delivered to my door, is seasonal, and comes within a twenty mile radius. Most of the fruits and veg are organic. I know where the farms are and who my supplier is.
    Well done you for thinking about this and doing something positive.
    I love the rhubarb story, it made me feel very nostalgic……..

  33. VP says:

    That bought back so many memeories Kate. We used to have the sugar in a brown paper bag to dip the rhubarb stick into – yum!
    I like the look of that dessert too – must give it a try.
    So glad you’re going to try for a community plot – they’re fun!

  34. Christina says:

    You are going to love growing more of your own food. It’s a blast.
    I’m a big rhubarb fan too, but it doesn’t grow well here in Southern California, so I get my rhubarb fix when I visit my parents in NM.

  35. sky says:

    i want to use the leaves to make a birdbath for the ground feeding birds. your crisp looks fabulous, and i wish i could taste one just like it. being from the southern US, “crisps” and “cobblers” are part of my history! hubby and i ordered a slice of rhubarb pie topped with a scoop of ice cream recently. the chef had not added enough sugar – wayyy too bitter. but i have a friend in new england who grows rhubarb and makes what she describes as delicious rhubarb/strawberry pies.

  36. Geraldine says:

    What a yummy post Kate! I love rhubarb so much. Recently made a rhurbarb and strawberry pie and it was delish. Your culinary delights look great too!

  37. peri says:

    Such an enjoyable blog! Thank you! I’ve been reading Michael Pollan for awhile now. He does have that effect on one. I too have increasingly expanded my food gardening and intend to keep doing so. The geranium picture is lovely by the way. I’ll be back!

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