As the days lengthen and spring comes on strong, we’re beginning to see one of the more hopeful sights on the homestead. On the mound outside our dining table window, and on the sunny beach edge of the garden, small, dark red turbans are beginning to peep from the soil and seaweed litter. The rhubarb is emerging!
Not many years ago, if you had told me that my heart would gladden and my mouth water at such a sight, I would have called you crazy. Growing up, I didn’t like rhubarb. My grandmother used to serve it stewed as a first breakfast course. I dreaded it even more than her other standby, cantaloupe. Raised to eat anything served without comment, I struggled through it, or, when offered a choice, chose otherwise.
In the years since I married Michelle, my taste changed, and I began to appreciate, then crave rhubarb. Now, few dishes thrill me like a bowl of stewed rhubarb, hot or cold! I attribute it to two things: I think Michelle cuts rhubarb shorter than Grandma did, so a mouthful is less fibrous. Also, her preparation includes sprinkling the sugar over the diced plant and leaving it awhile. The sugar draws out the juices, making it more flavorful.
The ads for our homestead included among its features a patch of Sullivan Island rhubarb. We’d been growing our own in Juneau, so this sounded good to us. Little did we realize how important it would become to us as a food source. I love the summer days when the first one out in the morning will wander to the patch, select three or four massive stems, pull them, lop the leaves, and bring them in to cut and stew. That and a good cup of coffee, perhaps enjoyed on the sunny veranda, is heaven on earth.
We make rhubarb pies, cobblers, crisps, and trifles. We use it to extend berry and apple jams. We also can the juice. Throughout the winter, we mix the juice with hot water for a nutritious drink.
When we were on the grid, Michelle preserved rhubarb by dicing it and spreading the pieces on a cookie sheet to stick in the chest freezer for a few hours. After they’d frozen, she’d dump them into plastic bags to store till needed.
Now, in “the starving time,” as wintry weather fades, but new vegetables aren’t up, we’re using the last precious jars of canned rhubarb, juiced and stewed. As we savor it we greedily watch this year’s crop emerge, a promise that the circle, as ever, continues to turn.