Mom's rhubarb patch

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal Editor

I read a piece on a mouth-puckering topic last week: Rhubarb.

It got me to thinking about my Mom and the rhubarb patch in the backyard of her home. It was positioned just outside one of the kitchen windows, providing a clear view to anyone looking out those windows.

The “anyone” was usually my Mom.

Without fail, every spring the rhubarb patch would sprout to life with gusto, starting out as small, skinny stalks an inch or two in length. Within the blink of an eye, the stalks seemed to grow to be two feet tall sprouting leaves the size of Iowa.

Once Mom began talking about the rhubarb “coming up”, I knew in no time at all, there would be plenty of rhubarb desserts for all to put a fork into.

When the rhubarb patch was in its seasonal glory, with a paring knife in hand, Mom made plenty of treks to and from the patch to harvest the best of the stalks. As the years wore on, during my visits home it was often one of the “chores” she “ordered” me to do.

In no time at all, the raw stalks would be transformed into rhubarb crunch, her go-to rhubarb dessert with meringue on top, rhubarb bread and rhubarb sauce or jelly.

The home my folks last resided in wasn’t the home that I grew up in. I do know, however, that the rhubarb patch came “with the house” when they bought it. I have no doubt it was planted decades and decades earlier by Ole – yes, Ole, and get this, his wife’s name was actually Tina – had likely planted it.

Ole was one of the “old guys” in the neighborhood that we, as kids, loved to stop by and visit. Most days, you’d find him in his garage that was filled with trinkets of the past – mostly junk, if I’m being honest – that included a medicine cabinet with a message that dared you to take a peek inside. When you opened the door to the cabinet, it exposed a pelt of some no-longer-living critter. Whatever kind of critter it was, it was surely ugly, and every time I opened that cabinet, it never got any prettier.

 Oftentimes, Ole would be cleaning fish – bullheads, to be more exact – that he had just fished out of the St. James Lake or spent many an hour cracking open walnuts or simply watching the world pass by. He was always up for a conversation and usually had a butterscotch candy or two in his pocket to share with the kids from the neighborhood.

In the piece I read about rhubarb last week, I learned that it’s not native to North America. As it was told, somewhere back in the 1800s, someone brought crowns – or seed – from the “old country.” The writer shared that he didn’t know who that was or how the forebears of the rhubarb got here.

“Trees, animals and people have come and gone; the rhubarb outlasts them all,” he wrote. 

As a kid, I well remember “swiping” stalks of rhubarb out of the Swanson’s rhubarb plot. They had a long row of it growing along the border of their property, and it seemed to be an unwritten rule that it was available for the taking. My friend Trish and I plunked plenty of stalks of rhubarb from that plot into containers of sugar. The sugar, you see, tamed its tanginess, but you had to be wise enough not to eat too much of the sugary-mouth-puckering edible, otherwise you were likely asking for a good, ol bellyache.

Rhubarb’s main attribute is that it is the first edible of the spring. Well that, and the asparagus that grows wild in ditches put in the countryside.

Since my Mom’s passing a few years ago I haven’t had a piece of rhubarb dessert with meringue on top, crunch or even bread for that matter. As for the rhubarb patch that’s been shooting up each spring without fail, I’m guessing it’s in its full glory about this time of the year. I can only hope the home owners are keeping an eye on it from the kitchen windows, and making treks to and from the patch with a paring knife in hand.

 

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The Brandon Valley Journal

 

The Brandon Valley Journal
1404 E. Cedar St.
Brandon, SD 57005
(605) 582-9999

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