The rhubarb is a vegetable most often used as a fruit – in much the same way that the tomato is a fruit used as a vegetable. But unlike the ubiquitous tomato, rhubarb sometimes stymies American cooks. What’s to be done with this briefly available, bitter, even poisonous plant?
Well, there’s pie. In the nineteenth century, rhubarb was so strongly associated with pie that it was commonly called pie plant. And then there are the many variants of pie: crisps, crumbles, buckles. Rhubarb is so very assertive that it was not much eaten until and unless it could be sugared; prior to that, it was prized only for its medicinal properties. But other fruits have a mellowing effect on rhubarb’s harshness. Apples, especially, soften it without transforming its flavor. Personally, I believe that it’s a crime against strawberries to pair them with rhubarb – and it’s underselling the rhubarb as well!
Dear readers, I will be candid: I would really prefer to live some hundred years ago. I would settle for 80, even. Or 120. For all its benefits, including refrigeration, antibacterial agents, and your esteemed selves, the modern age lacks a certain cozy charm to be found now only between the yellowing pages of novels: scenes of tea and toast before the fire, embroidered slippers, long hours of novel-reading, acrostics, baked apples, baked eggs, floral wallpapers, lemon-scented barley-water, candied violets, kippered herring, crumpets, puddings in the nursery…. It is not perhaps surprising that my interest centers on foods, fabrics, and the fireside. I confess that I have tried to recreate that coziness in my modern life. I bake apples. I cook kippers. I light fires at the slightest chill. I rest my feet on an embroidered footstool, and the quantity of novels lying about suggests more leisure time than I actually possess.
The first weekend of October was a golden weekend: sunshine poured down like balm onto trees turning tawny yellow, glancing off the curves of each singular leaf that floated down. I could not stop gazing at autumn gilding the world in front me.
Then the balance tipped. Monday morning the temperature dropped and the heavens opened and suddenly we’d begun the long slide towards winter. It will be seven months until I’m warm enough again. I came home from my morning walk dripping wet and dreaming of hot soups, hot chocolate, and hot water bottles.
In which I mostly make it up as I go
I was a great reader as a child. (Also, as one might expect, a maker of mudpies. But principally a reader.) Most of my introductions to the world came through books, and thus the first goats I met were Schwanli and Baerli, the goats kept by the Alm-Uncle in the book Heidi. They were kept for their milk. Through the lens of a novel written “for children and those who love children”, the goats seemed more like pets than livestock, and thus goats have always been to me, the most personable and most pet-like of farm animals.
The satisfaction of growing one’s own food can almost – not quite, but almost – be matched by the satisfaction of finding one’s own food.
For me, it began with the raspberries. Indeed, raspberries are perhaps my rampion: like Rapunzel’s mother, I crave them above all other foods. The first thing we did when we bought a house, before we painted a single wall or moved a single stick of furniture, was to build a raised bed and plant three raspberry canes. They all died by summer’s end, apparently of ennui.
When I lived briefly in England, more than ten years ago now, I used to love a wonderful Carrot & Coriander soup. It was bright and light and warm, like spring and fall in the same bowl. And it was everywhere: in the pub, at the sandwich shop, in cartons in the grocery store. And everyone made it well. At least, in my memory they did.
I miss it, on and off. I never see it on menus over here. I never see it in recipe books. I don’t know why my carrot soup hasn’t translated, when potato & leek is so common but so much less interesting.
Elizabeth is a folklorist, a teacher, a blogger (at www.breadandhoneyblog.com) and a culinary experimenter with a low boredom threshold. She and her partner have recently added a giant puppy to their household; he impedes the experimentation, but she loves him anyway. They used to live in a large, old house with a small, old kitchen […]
Elizabeth is a folklorist, a teacher, and a culinary experimenter with a low boredom threshold. She and her partner have recently added a giant puppy to their household; he impedes the experimentation, but she loves him anyway. They live in a large, old house with a small, old kitchen in upstate New York. Elizabeth blogs […]