Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rhubarb is up---It must be Spring!

Here is one of my favorite harbingers of Spring!

IMG_5095.jpg picture by nali49

As a child in Indiana, most of our neighbors called it Pie Plant, but we always just called it rhubarb.

It seemed to love the cool Alaskan summers and grew into large, beautiful plants. Some brave souls in the family thought it was tasty freshly picked with no sugar to sweeten it. I was not one of those souls.

When my parents first came to visit us there they were astounded at the size of our rhubarb plants. Mom wanted to take one particularly lovely stalk home with her, uncut, to show the rest of the family. Once the leaf was cut off, the stem was 28 inches long. Doesn't take many stalks like that to make something out of.

As a child we mostly made stewed rhubarb, brought to a boil with a little water and some sugar. We ate it for breakfast like a bowl of fruit, although it is really a vegetable. Some of our friends made a thicker sauce from it and served it over ice cream.

In Alaska our rhubarb plants had a history. We brought the starts from the homestead where woodworker grew up. We brought the starts to our little house in Anchorage, and later from there to our permanent home in Wasilla. In Wasilla we planted our rhubarb starts, but they really didn't do very well. For several years we struggled to grow spindly little plants.

In the meanwhile, there was an area of our yard that used to be an old stump row from clearing the land. The topsoil was better there. That is where we put our garden. Next to the garden we had a little greenhouse and a small building which was divided into 2 sections for chickens and some pigs. The pigs and chickens each had their own little yard.

Eventually we quit raising pigs. That is when we suddenly realized the best spot to relocate our struggling little rhubarb plants. Once the plants were put into the old pigpen, they took off. They loved that fertile soil.

When we decided to leave Alaska, we took starts from our rhubarb with us to our new home. We didn't know how they would do in the dry, hot desert climate, but fortunately the cool nights here seem to be agreeable to the plants...along with being planted near a water source.

I don't know what variety our rhubarb is, but it is more red than some varieties and makes the prettiest pink rhubarb jelly.

I think our favorite uses though, turned out to be rhubarb custard pie and rhubarb cake.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

3 c. diced rhubarb
2 c. sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1 c. sour cream
1/2 t. salt
3 T. tapioca

Mix ingredients together and allow them to marinate while making the crust.
Pour mixture in unbaked pie crust and add top crust or lattice crust. Bake at 425ºF. for 15 minutes and then at 350ºF for 35 minutes.

Rhubarb Cake

1/2 c. shortening
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk (1 c. milk + 1 T. lemon juice)
1 1/2 c. chopped raw rhubarb
1 t. vanilla

1/2 c. white sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped nuts

Cream together shortening, sugar and egg. Add remaining ingredients and then pour into an ungreased 9 X 13 pan. Sprinkle with topping and bake at 325ºF. for 50 minutes.

No comments: