Beauty is all around us, including in rhubarb!
I love the peaceful places of the earth – such as the curves and rolls of Pierce County Highway 17 where pools of blue agates are edged with wildflowers and various unwanted, but beautiful blooming weeds of the orchid-colored Canadian thistle. I like the pastel colors on the small cabins of the former Oppen Court west of Rugby, and the red barn and stone farmhouse of Mike and Vernice Brossart set on a vast domain north of town. This land of ours in Pierce County has unending beauty and its massiveness in fields and meadows which lay fold upon fold forever strike a vibrant chord in my heart.
There is currently another beauty which appears each spring and early summer about our town and countryside, and it is the thrill and grandeur of the rhubarb patch. My soul has found a blessed fellowship with these green, rumpled elephant ears, and beneath their canopies, celery-like stalks appearing in ruby red, candy pink and shades of green from lime to avocado.
My first time getting lost in a massive rhubarb patch came in Underwood. To the east of the former Ford garage, there was an old house which had a small ravine by a culvert. It was here that rhubarb grew as if it were in a tropical rain forest. I can recall standing in the middle of this patch with rhubarb reaching beyond my waist.
Last week in Rugby, the Pioneer Village Museum paid homage to the graciousness of rhubarb by holding its first Rhubarb Festival. We were treated to nibbles of rhubarb in a variety of ways from bars, cookies, pies, punch and beyond. We were also treated to the beauty of blooming rhubarb which sported a stunning Caledon green. This work of art was presented by Mildred Rothgarn and it was worthy of a photograph – perhaps even an appearance in a still-life. Piano music was also part of this festival provided by Edie Wurgler who transposed a tune to the Rhubarb Rag! Thank you, Cathy Jelsing and crew, for presenting this rhubarb interlude to the community.
Rhubarb, a member of the buckwheat family, is a vegetable, but because of its use, it is often thought of as a fruit. Fresh rhubarb stalks should be firm, crisp, tender and either cherry red, pink or green in color. If rhubarb is not located in a sunny location, the stalks will stay green. Only the stalk of the rhubarb is edible because the leaves contain oxalic acid. If eaten in quantity, they could be fatal. So it is best to use the leaves as compost or make a sweet sidewalk between the rows in your garden.
Earliest records date back to 2700 B.C. in China, where rhubarb grew wild and was cultivated for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb is an excellent source of calcium, fiber and vitamin C. The flavor of raw rhubarb is strongly acidic, but it is pleasingly tart when cooked and sweetened.
As a child, I often enjoyed picking the very small and tender stalks and dipping them in sugar, which was a treat! Because of its familiar use in pies, rhubarb is frequently referred to as “pie plant.” Rhubarb is wonderful in beverages, sauces, salads, puddings, jam and jellies, tarts, cakes and many other baked desserts.
As a child, my younger brother Kelly and I would look for the largest rhubarb leaf, pick it, and use it as an umbrella. In time we worked up a rhubarb dance, often performing this for customers at the laundromat. (You really should try this – the leaves have an amazing movement and when combined with a little hip action can be as intriguing as grass skirt.) Now you know why we didn’t need a computer for fun!
My mom taught me that rhubarb works well for cleaning pots and pans – especially aluminum. If your pots and pans have winter dullness, fear not. An application of rhubarb over the afflicted area will bring back the shine in no time. Since we want to be green, this method is environmentally friendly. Rock on, rhubarb shine!
When you are seeking beauty in Pierce County, let us not forget the rhubarb patch. It brings forth eye appeal, taste appeal, and I know in time the Caledon green will be a Pantone color of the year. Let it be known now that we in Pierce County don’t mind being green well, rhubarb green!
Included above is a refreshing dressing good year around – in the middle of winter we can taste spring! The added food coloring makes this most attractive and this can be served with crisp crackers.