When I was a kid, nearly every garden in northern Wisconsin featured two perennial vegetables. Both yield better when they have a chance to rest during a nice cold winter, which helps explain why they were so popular in our part of the United States.
The first was a row of winter onions. My father loved those onions and waited impatiently every spring for the new green sprouts to get big enough to pull. He would come home from work and walk out to the garden sometimes even before going in the house when they were getting close to being ready to pick. Pushing the season a little, Dad would bring in a dozen tender green onions for supper, and we would know that spring was finally here.
The second was two or three rhubarb plants. Rhubarb was classified as a fruit in 1947 by a court in New York State because it is used as a fruit, but I still think that stalks that resemble celery are best considered a vegetable.
My mother was in charge of our rhubarb, though Dad helped with the mulching, liming and fertilizing. When the time came, Mom pulled big stalks of rhubarb and made pies, sauce, cakes, breads and marmalade. I enjoyed them all, but my favorite was her sauce. It made a nice change from the canned berries and applesauce Mom had put up the previous summer.
Once in a futile attempt to lose some weight I bought a little calorie counter book small enough to put in my pocket. My plan was to consult it before buying any tempting food item. Jerri made the sensible observation that if I just reduced portion sizes and exercised a bit more I would probably not need the book. As sat at the kitchen table looking for some low-calorie foods I liked that she could make to help me lose weight, I found rhubarb.
“Here’s one,” I said. “Rhubarb. One cup of rhubarb has only 26 calories. And I love rhubarb.”
“That’s raw rhubarb,” she answered. “Check rhubarb sauce.”
Needless to say, rhubarb sauce did not make it onto my list of diet foods, but I still enjoy a little of it from time to time along with some other rhubarb favorites.
Soon we will be making Jerri’s rhubarb custard pie again, and if you want to try it, the recipe is in the blog archives from last May. Here is another delicious rhubarb desert. A couple of days ago, Jerri made this upside down cake from a recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook. She thought that it was a little too sweet with all the brown sugar caramelized on the bottom, but I loved it.
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 cups diced rhubarb
1 cup brown sugar
2 T butter
Pull three or four large stalks of rhubarb. Trim the base of the stalks and cut off the leaves, which are not edible. Wash the stalks and dice them into 1/3 to 1/2 inch pieces. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter. Grease a 9 by 9 inch cake pan or 10 inch pie pan. Mix the butter, sugar and rhubarb in the pan and set it aside.
Cream the sugar and shortening in a mixing bowl, then beat in the egg. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder and add alternately with the milk. Stir until you have a smooth batter.
Spread the batter over the rhubarb mixture and bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
Note: Serve with half and half or cream. Makes nine generous servings.