Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Season

Growing up, our family was never really exposed to rhubarb. It just wasn't something that we ate. It's not common in either of my parents' cultures, so it wasn't used in any of the cooking.

I remember living in a small suburb of Montreal called Roxboro, where our neighbours' houses were so close to each other. Naturally, we became friendly with our immediate neighbours on either side of our house. Two doors down, there was another family we became friends with. The girl was about the age of Middle Bro (a year and a half younger than me). This was long before Baby Bro was born.

The girl was an only child (she had a sister born the same year as Baby Bro--when Middle Bro was nine and I was eleven). She, Middle Bro and I used to hang out a lot. Her mother would look after us after school while we waited for our parents to come home from work. We'd do our homework, do some arts and crafts, play outside and just be kids.

We learned a lot from that family. They sometimes took us to their family farm an hour and a bit outside of Montreal. We were introduced to some good 'ol Quebecois cooking too. There was this little chip stand on our way "up North". It seemed to be a popular stop for people heading from the city to the country. Isn't it funny how one can remember something so trivial as the scent and flavour of home cut fries and not wanting to use the public bathroom because the owners of said chip stand (or Pataterie in French) had this massive black dog that always scared the living daylights out of us kids!?

Our neighbour's grandmother was from the country and she made a lot of preserves and jams. One time, when we were in our neighbour's backyard, I noticed these plants growing that we didn't have in our garden. I inquired because I wasn't sure whether it was a fruit or a vegetable. The leaves were big and broad, and the stems (which I was later told were called stalks) were a greenish-reddish colour.

Amazed at this new discovery, I asked how it would be used. Do we eat it raw? Do we cook it? What do we cook it with? What kind of dishes could we make with these things? My friend's mother cut a stalk of this reddish-green vegetable and dipped the end in a bowl of sugar. She then told me to take a bite.

Blechhhhhhhh!!! That had to be the most vile thing I had ever tasted in my entire (albeit, short since I was only six) life. Why, oh why would anyone actually eat that stuff? It was very tart...almost bitter! It sure had lots of pucker power!

My friend and her parents laughed as they munched on the sugar dipped stalks. They offered me a slice of the grandmother's rhubarb-strawberry pie. I must have had such a horrible experience with the raw rhubarb with sugar that I didn't enjoy the pie. Another time, they let me try grandma's rhubarb-strawberry jam on a slice of toast. My friend ate this for breakfast with her brown sugar sprinkled Weetabix and warm milk. I still didn't like it. Could it be that I just never got past my initial reaction to rhubarb? Had it forever left a mark on me? Would I ever learn to like it?

Fast forward to my thirties, where I am now living on a farm and married to a farmer. We grow a lot of things on our farm. Everything from raspberries, red currants, apples, corn, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, beans, peas (the list goes on, but I'll spare you)...and yes, rhubarb!When I first saw our rather large rhubarb patch, I remember telling Hubby, "Oh, NO!!! I HATE rhubarb!!!" Hubby then replied with a "What?? How can you hate rhubarb?? It's so good!!"

Yeah. Right. To be honest, I tried to neglect the rhubarb in hopes that my most hated vegetable would die. No such luck. These plants are hearty and prolific. The harder I tried to neglect them, the more they seemed to thrive! Hmph! Here I was slaving over my tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, corn and broccoli, and it was the rhubarb that was thriving without any of my attention and care! Go figure!

Hubby went on to tell me all about his mom's delicious rhubarb desserts and jams. Apparently, rhubarb and strawberries are best friends and always go well together. Sure enough, one evening when we were dining at his mother's house, she made a strawberry-rhubarb dessert.

Now, I come from a culture where refusing to try the food someone offers to you is very impolite and inconsiderate. Teaching in Japan, I also learned that one must never offend the host/hostess and turn down their food offerings. In my head, I thought "Okay, just suck it up and try it". I am so glad I did! That fruit dessert was delicious and unexpectedly became one of my favourite desserts of all time. The sweet, yet tart flavour of this dessert is really refreshing on a hot summer day.

Seeing how it is now the season for rhubarb, I have been enjoying harvesting our rhubarb crop. So far, in the past two days I have cleaned, cut, and frozen six bags of rhubarb and there are A LOT more to cut in the next few days.

This time of the year, whenever I see the rhubarb ready to pick, I always remember my first encounter with rhubarb and my carefree days as a child living in Quebec.

**I'm still rather new at the rhubarb thing and only know how to make a few strawberry-rhubarb desserts. I took the liberty of finding some recipes online for anyone interested in cooking with this vegetable...since it is in season right now! I try to cook with produce that is in season as much as possible. If it's not grown on our farm, then I try the local farmer's markets. If all else fails, the grocery store carries some locally grown (as in "grown in Ontario")produce too.

Here's a website for some really tasty rhubarb recipes, as well as a website for the nutritional value of rhubarb.

Another interesting rhubarb fact that Hubby mentioned to me today: NEVER eat the leaves from a rhubarb plant! They contain oxalic acid and may be toxic. That's right! Hubby said never make a tea out of rhubarb leaves. It can kill you.**


japanmanpete said...

I love how many of the Canadian cities are named after English places. However, instead of Roxboro we spell ours Roxborough. It is also not pronounced the way you lot pronounce it. You say RoxboROW and we say RoxboRUH. All very interesting, yes?

P.S. No, I would not call you a Yank. I would call you a Canuck.Is that the correct term?


Karen MEG said...

Hey C, rhubarb actually gives me the most wonderful memories of my mother-in-law. She used to grow it in her garden, and she made the most delicious strawberry and rhubarb hot sauce - perfect with ice-cream. She taught me how to make it when Ian and I were dating --- I used to visit, he would wash his car (a German thing) and I would have tea and a nice chat with his mom. Unfortunately she passed away when L-boy was only 9 months old.

I haven't made it in a long time. I really should.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

Ack! Death by tea!!!

We used to grow Rhubarb in our garden in Alaska, but I honestly don't remember ever eating it.

I do remember reading The First Four Years, which is about the first years of Laura Ingalls Wilder's marriage (Little House on the Prairie, remember?) Her first day of being a married woman, she had to cook for the threshers that had come to help with her husband's wheat. She served them pie with no sugar! It was rhubarb pie, though she called it "pie plant", which I didn't know was rhubarb for years.

TMI? Boring long comment? So? what are you going to do about it? ;)

karenMEG, put that recipe on your blog. When my mom's healthy again, I'll try making the hot/sweet/tart sauce for her. That sounds right up her ally.

VE said...

I felt the same way as you did about Rhubarb. In fact, I don't even like the way it is spelled! You'd lose at hangman for sure with that word! But, being a man and not from Asia I haven't bothered to go beyond that initial reaction.

Dina said...

if rhubarb grows so easily WHY is it so darn expensive at the supermarket??? I love strawberry rhubarb pie...yummm i may have to indulge and go get one, one of these days!!

C said...

Yes, I noticed my friends from England pronounce the names of places differently from the way we pronounce them. I used to live in a place called Scarborough and my Brit friends used to always laugh at the way we pronounce it!

I guess Canuck is acceptable :)

Isn't it amazing how something like rhubarb can trigger special memories like that?

Hey, my mother-in-law makes that strawberry-rhubarb sauce too! :) That's the first rhubarb recipe I ever learned! LOL!

C said...

Seriously! Death by tea! Imagine!?!?!
Crazy, eh?

Oh!! Thank you for mentioning that Laura Ingalls Wilder snippet! I remember that! I was a huuuuuuuuuge Little House on the Prairie fan (still am)!! Then again, what girl wasn't/isn't?? :)

I think I'm going to have to dust off those books again and read them again...and fall in love with them all over again!

P.S. I lovvvvvve long comments! The longer, the better! ;)

C said...

Funny, I thought I was the only one who wasn't happy with the way the word 'rhubarb' is spelled!

Really?? I had nooooooooo idea that rhubarb was expensive in grocery stores! I suppose I never really looked for it since it grows like WEEDS here! Seriously, I have neglected my rhubarb patches and they keep coming in full force! We've got the most amazing rhubarb and with next to zero effort. Go figure! LOL!

P.S. Nooooooooooo...Don't buy a strawberry-rhubarb pie!!! When I come visit again, I'll bake you one!!! :) Unless you want it RIGHT now...LOL!

Sandy C. said...

I had no idea about the leaves! That's a bit scary. I've never really had rhubarb either. I'm a bit scared to try now :/

Uncivil said...

I don't think I've ever tasted rhubarb or even seen it before? Much less spelled it?
I like the way that horse's head in the old photo looks as large as you kids!

C said...

I never thought I'd learn to like rhubarb, but I've actually become a fan. It is an acquired taste though.

The stalks are good for cooking, making desserts, sauces and jams with. Just don't eat the leaves. It's not that scary :)

You just cut off the leaves and leave them in your garden for mulching/composting.

Palm Springs Savant said...

I've always loved rhubarb...my mom used t omake a delish rhubarb pie too

Autumn's Mom said...

I had a strawberry-rhubarb jelly that I really really liked. I don't think until just now, that I ever have even seen what rhubarb looks like.

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City girl moves to the country, falls in love, and marries a farmer. She tries to incorporate her city ways with her new country lifestyle and blogs to keep in touch with friends, family & students who live far, far away :) Can this city girl go country? Watch as she learns all sorts of exciting things about life on the farm and in a small rural community. *UPDATE* We are now parents! Our baby girl was born on Nov. 11, 2008 (at 28 weeks gestation- 12 weeks premature, but she's quite the trooper)!!!
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