t’s that time of year again --- the mornings are golden, the nights still chilly, the blue jays are calling in the trees out back and the rhubarb has broken through the earth like it has for ten thousand years. Actually, I wonder how old some of these rhubarb plants are. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were the same ones transplanted from the Garden of Eden.
On Saturday a friend gave me a huge bundle of rhubarb, on Sunday I cooked it up into the jam that my mother made every year and every morning since I have been eating it on toast with my coffee for breakfast.
Rhubarb is an excellent low-carb fruit because it is so high in fiber. So I adapted my mother’s rhubarb jam recipe to sugarless and have made a pretty tasty treat. I chopped four pounds of rhubarb into small pieces and added a small amount of water then let it simmer until it was soft and mushy and then let it cook a bit longer until it was thickening and the water was cooking out. I stirred in the equivalent of 2 pounds of Splenda and 2 packages of sugarless wild strawberry gelatin. When it was well-mixed and dissolved I ladled the lovely rosy stuff into containers (it made about 2 and a half pints) and set to cool.
The good thing about this stuff is it is jam-like but you can eat it with a spoon if you feel the need to which I did, at first. It also freezes well.
I don’t know who first thought up rhubarb but they had a good idea. It is versatile and delicious and good for you. Low in calories, high in fiber and useful in a multitude of ways. It makes outstanding pies and crisps. It can be cooked in to sauce that rivals applesauce for versatility. It combines wonderfully with strawberries but also with peaches, cherries, and blueberries. One of my favorite treats in all the world is Summer Fruit Pie made with rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and cherries all tossed together.
Rhubarb can be steamed and served as a vegetable with salt, pepper and butter. It can be chopped fine and tossed into a chicken salad to add a bit of crunch and tang. It can be cut from the garden, sprayed off with a garden hose and chewed on as you work. The stalks make decent swords for neighborhood battles between small warriors and the leaves can be used as impromptu serving dishes to carry a gift of peas or berries to a neighbor.
I love Garrison Keillor for a lot of reasons not the least of which is his commercials for rhubarb pie on Prairie Home Companion each week. Anyone who loves and appreciates rhubarb is okay with me.
So summer is beginning. Fiesta will be soon. The beach roses are in full, fragrant bloom along the back shore and the morning air smells of the sea. At night the trains still keep to their schedules, the fog horns blow and life goes on. Life changes. But it still goes on.
Kathleen Valentine is the author of two collections of short stories: My Last Romance and other passions and love, murder, etc. as well as two novels, The Old Mermaid's Tale and Each Angel Burns. She has also written Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook - five generations of good eating, a memoir/cookbook of memories and 400 recipes from a Pennsylvania Dutch childhood, and The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons & Wraps, a collection of her own lace knitting designs. She also publishes single knitting projects in a series called Knit Your Tail Off.