The generosity of rhubarb

RhubarbWhen the garden seed catalogs arrive in the middle of December, I can’t help myself. I page through each one, dreaming of summer and the prospect of fresh crisp greens, crunchy carrots, sweet ripe tomatoes and sweet peas, warm off the vine. I fantasize about things that really don’t grow well here like okra and melons and peaches.

I tend to forget about how many tomatoes a single plant can produce or how many carrots there are in a package of seed. If I were so foolish as to send off my seed order in December, I know I would need a couple acres of garden to hold all of my dreams.

Gardens are a good lesson in abundance. A tiny seed multiplies itself many times. Our tending the garden is rewarded many times over. We get exercise, fresh air and sunshine and are further rewarded with food that tastes better, is more nutritious and more varied than we can buy almost anywhere else. We do have to add some tender loving care and sweat equity to that food, but I think it’s worth it.

There probably is no more generous garden plant than rhubarb. I’m sure there are people who don’t like the tart “pie plant.” I personally don’t know more than a couple of them. If you eat too much of it, I understand there could be detrimental effects on your health. I think that would be a lot of rhubarb, however. Rhubarb has a significant amount of vitamins C and K as well as antioxidants and calcium.

When we moved back to our farm in the 1970’s, hidden in the tall unmown grass was a persistent, still vigorous rhubarb plant that had been untended for nearly ten years. My mother had dug up part of it and transplanted roots in her garden at her house in town. Still there it was. I’m not sure where the original plant came from. Perhaps it was my grandmother’s. I dug up as much of the root as I could and moved it to my new garden plot. Then I moved it again some years later. It’s still growing.

Rhubarb is remarkable because even though it is hardy enough to thrive on the 49th parallel and even further north, it doesn’t do well where the temperature and humidity get too high. Even though it is nearly impossible to kill an established plant, it  doesn’t become invasive. It doesn’t spread unless you replant every piece of root you dig up when it becomes root bound and needs dividing. You can pull up all the stalks and it will grow more with sufficient water and an occasional feeding of compost. It has few pests or diseases. I have cut mine all summer long with no problem.

Rhubarb is good by itself in sauce, jams, jellies, crisps, cobblers and pie. In spite of it’s strong flavor it has the ability to blend with and intensify the flavors of other fruits. I often mix rhubarb and juneberries (some family members consider this one sacrilegious), rhubarb and currants, and rhubarb and strawberries. I have found recipes for rhubarb juice, rhubarb margaritas, rhubarb ice cream and rhubarb salsa.

One of my favorite recipes, however, is Koresh Rivas or Persian lamb and rhubarb stew. I know it sounds strange. It is, however, delicious–sweet, sour and savory all at once served over rice. It makes my mouth water just to think of it.

Rhubarb is an abundant gift. It is just one of the many such extravagantly generous gifts around us, if we only we take the time to look.

Copyright © 2016 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains