Our rhubarb plant, with it’s dark green umbrella-like leaves shooting out from brilliant ruby stalks, grew lushly in the back corner of the garden, across from the compost pile and the raspberry patch. Even the chickens wouldn’t eat the toxic greenery, but my mom had taught me to break off the stems and dip them in sugar for a sweet-tart treat (and the leaves made a nice parasol for a little girls). My mouth still puckers just thinking about it.
That is what rhubarb evokes for me first. Then there’s the strawberry-rhubarb cobbler that my dad brought to a Memorial Day barbeque. I couldn’t have been older than five. While we ate the cobbler–it was perfect–my mom told her friends at the table about the sexy new rhubarb-colored shirt she’d bought for my dad. For the rest of the evening my little brother and I were in hysterics chanting “Daddy’s gonna be sexy! Daddy’s gonna be sexy!”
More recently, there’s the first time I cooked for my (now) boyfriend. I was nervous about the fish I planned to gut and grill, but for dessert I knew I had the pie nailed. I have made, truly, thousands of pies. I won his heart as I scaled that fish with gusto, and I aced the grilling, but the pie was the worst I have ever baked! Its crust was soggy and the rhubarb had the texture of undercooked celery. It gave us something to laugh about as we watched fireworks from my rooftop later, finishing our bottle of champagne. We reminisce much more about the terrible pie than the perfect fish.
Rhubarb is one of the first interesting harvests each spring, and I thrill with memory and anticipation each time I see it. Let’s get cooking.
makes one pint, takes 15 minutes
- 3 cups chopped rhubarb
- ¾ cups sugar
- 2 Tablespoons water
- ½ lemon
Put rhubarb, sugar and water in a small heavy bottomed pan. Squeeze in the lemon, and put the rind in too. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is tender but not mushy. Remove the lemon rind. Serve warm over shortcake, or refrigerate in a glass pint-ja