Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Praise of Rhubarb

I'm very happy these days because spring has really and truly arrived. Spring, in case you didn't know, is a very tempermental and moody season here in southwestern Ontario....we tend to get a half-hearted winter for a few weeks, and then, boom, it's summer. Not much of a spring at all, usually.
One of the reasons I adore the spring is rhubarb. And it is, indeed, rhubarb season here.
My family do not appreciate the delights of rhubarb at all, witnessed by the fact that Thing 1 plugs her nose and staggers around the kitchen, crazed with repulsion by the very smell whenever I cook it. Thing 2 and the Mister just look at me with a sort of bewildered distaste whenever I eat it. They just don't get it. ("But it's a vegetable! We grow it in the vegetable garden! How can you eat it with whipped cream?!?")

Rhubarb has a reputation of being "grandma" food, like canned fruit cocktail, or turnip. Or aspic. The words "stewed rhubarb" have nothing hip or funky or elegant about them. "Stewed rhubarb" is the orthopedic shoe of the culinary world. Which is a pity, because it's awesome. (For stewed rhubarb, you cut up the rhubarb, put it in a pot, dump a whack of sugar on top and let it cook down over medium heat until it is all unrecognizable. Done.)

I suppose part of that reputation is because it was very popular during the war; it was one of the few fruits my parents ever got when they were growing up in Ireland, simply because it grew there. I'm not sure what they did about the sugar, though, because the only thing about rhubarb is that you have to cook it and you have to add sugar, near-lethal amounts of sugar. Like, almost equal parts, because, man, is rhubarb sour. (When I was a kid we used to eat it raw, dipped in sugar, and it was so mouth-puckeringly sour that I recall actually getting cramps in our cheeks from it. ) Once my mother made a rhubarb pie and forgot to add the sugar before she put it in the oven, and OH. MY. GOD. was it sour.....one bite and all the moisture left your head. And it was no help to add the sugar afterwards, that just made it every bit as sour, but teeth-rattling sweet as well. Good times. Anyway, I've made some beautiful rhubarb pies, and rhubarb cheesecakes and a stellar rhubarb ice-cream that was the stuff of legend.

Tonight I made some stewed rhubarb that I served with strawberries over angel food cake, and tomorrow morning I will have the rest of that stewed rhubarb for breakfast with some custard and and I won't have to share with anyone. All is right with the world.

1 comment:

Jude said...

I would love to have a bowl of that stewed Rhubarb. My Mom use to cook it up just like that too.