28 May 2013

This is why I garden

In 1997, I moved from Canada to Houston. In Canada, you can grow rhubarb. In Houston, it is only sporadically available in grocery stores. I would carry my limp rhubarb with rotten spots on it to the cash register, and I would be asked "What is that?" and "What do you do with that?". And I would pay $7 a pound for the privilege. I would salvage what I could from this pale shadow of what rhubarb should be.

At home, all of my family grows rhubarb. And towards the end of the summer, every one of them asks who needs extra, because they have too much to freeze. The idea of paying for rhubarb is ridiculous. Rhubarb is everywhere. In all of my homes since 1997 - Houston, Baltimore and San Diego - rhubarb can't live. Houston is too hot. Baltimore is too humid (the roots rotted out of my attempts). San Diego doesn't have a winter, which rhubarb requires. But now, in Massachusetts, we can grow rhubarb.

We planted them last spring, and they've flourished.

Rhubarb plant
Side view - Rhubarb plant

And this weekend we harvested from them for the first time. Following my mother's advice, I harvested only the thickest stalks. Grasp them, and gently twist and pull. They come off at the base. The biggest stalks should be quite large on a healthy, established plant. Mrs. Dude is shown for scale:

Rhubarb for scale

Cut off the leaves (they contain toxic levels of oxalic acid). And chop the rest of the rhubarb into 18" chunks.

A simple and worthy dessert of rhubarb is rhubarb crisp. Preheat the oven to 375°F. For the fruit:
3 cups chopped rhubarb
1 to 1 ¼ C sugar
3 tbsp flour

Mix the rhubarb, flour and sugar and layer into a large, greased baking dish. Make the topping. If you like your topping crunchy, make 50% more topping than what is below:
½ cup oatmeal
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup butter, chopped
18 tsp baking soda
18 tsp baking powder

Mix the topping ingredients, and cut the butter into them. Mix well. When the oven is at temperature, sprinkle the topping evenly over the rhubarb. Place the dish in the oven, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned, and the rhubarb is bubbling through.

Rhubarb crisp

While still hot, scoop out crisp into bowls, and serve with vanilla ice cream. Perfect.

Rhubarb crisp with ice cream

This is an excellent spring dessert to finish any barbecue. And this is why I garden.