One of our neighbours says she can’t grow rhubarb – it always dies on her. That must take a special talent. We can’t kill it. Not that we want to.
At every prairie homestead, occupied or abandoned, you can find caragana, honeysuckle and, yes, rhubarb. We had one long row of rhubarb in our farm’s garden. It was one of the first fresh foods, along with asparagus, that we harvested each spring. It was “heritage” rhubarb – the extremely sour green-stalked variety that my grandparents planted ca. 1917. My brother and I dipped stalks in sugar to eat it raw (doing so gave you bragging rights about how tough you were). Mom stewed it and made pies and puddings with it. She froze bags of it for winter use. There was never enough rhubarb to satisfy our longing for that delicious tart-sweet taste.
This spring we decided to move our rhubarb, in part because it was desperately in need of being divided and in part because it was in the shade of a large laurel willow tree. Also, we had plans for that corner of the garden which meant we would be unable to get to our precious rhubarb.
Rhubarb roots are not delicate, fragile, fibrous things. Oh, no. They are tough and thick as your forearm. They twist and twine around each other. They go half-way down to the molten core of the earth. No wonder it’s impossible to kill rhubarb (unless you are our neighbour). The roots were a mangled mess by the time we finished digging. Would the plants survive? Would they grow? Would we ever have fresh rhubarb again?
Foolish questions. Of course they survived. More to the point, they flourished. Last week, I picked our first crop and made rhubarb pie. Oh, that wonderful tart-sweet taste. There’s nothing like it.
Here’s my favourite recipe for rhubarb pie from Carol Acoose, a friend from my Regina days:
Rhubarb Custard Pie
4-1/2 cups of rhubarb, cut in 1″ pieces (more or less)
3 tbsp flour
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp soft butter
nutmeg to taste
pastry for single-crust pie
Mix all ingredients well. Pour mixture into pastry-lined pie plate. Bake at 400F for 15 – 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 20 – 25 minutes or until rhubarb is tender, custard is set and top is golden. Let cool. Salivate! Smack your lips! Enjoy!
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