I’m in the middle of rhubarb season, 2016. This is my fifth year as Rhubarb Mogul, or Rhubarb Mongrel as my long-suffering room-mate/rhubarb intern likes to call me.
Along with an impressive collection of turnip tags, a broken flashlight, and a plastic lunchbox, I inherited the rhubarb patch on the passing of my father. It is fitting that the child named Barb should fall heir to the rhuBarb. My memories of getting off the school-bus on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and going immediately to the rhubarb patch to join the crew are not exactly what you would call fond memories, but my attitude has definitely changed since I became a Rhubarb Mogul/Mongrel.
The view from my rhubarb hill is extraordinary. The wind always blows so I rarely meet a blackfly or a mosquito. Unfortunately, I have had a nasty run-in with a tick but I’ll save that story for another time! While I enjoy the meditative solitude in the patch, alone with knife and banana box, there is also a social side to rhubarb harvesting. Phisher and Dixie, my dog-neighbours, always galumph in for a visit. Ruthie and Guy often stop on the way by. My sister Kathy frequently pops over with updates on local news. And my cousin Terry, trucking wood or gravel up and down the road, blasts his horn, inspiring me to carry on.
Hills of Appalachia
And then there is my intern. Good help is hard to find. Although this is his fifth year on the job, quality control has been an issue this season. I’ve had to speak to him. He did not take kindly to that despite my effort at a clear but diplomatic reprimand. In fact, he threatened to quit. He hasn't turned in his knife yet, but I’ve heard him muttering to anyone who will listen, “The work is hard and the pay is poor.”
And the K9 security unit is not taking her job very seriously this year. There has been a lot of laying around and sleeping on the job. I may have to recruit new staff.
My mother used to refer to rhubarb as “Spring Tonic” as it was the first fresh food available after a long winter. Mom was a great baker who observed the local/seasonal philosophy so we consumed plenty of pies, cakes, crisps, jam etc.
Baking with Rhubarb
Although used primarily in desserts, rhubarb is actually an “undemanding perennial vegetable.” This ancient plant can be traced to China in 2700BC. Its leaves contain poisonous substances including oxalic acid so avoid eating the leaves. Poisoning by rhubarb leaf became a problem in Britain during World War One when leaves were recommended as a food source. I have heard of a few local goats succumbing to rhubarb leaf poisoning.
The Pretty Product
However, the potential for rhubarb is endless! I have sold rhubarb to a microbrewery which makes Rhubarb Beer,
Big Tide Brewing Company, Saint John, NB
Dunham's Run Estate Winery, Kingston,NB
and a grocery store which makes “adult” Rhubarb Freezies!
Adult Freezies at Real Food Connections
Of course, I have rhubarb mittens in my Mitten Shoppe, another of my entrepreneurial operations.
Rhubarb Patch ($10.00)
I have even found a couple of mysteries involving rhubarb! Next on my reading list!
Pushing up Rhubarb: " When Monica Munch dies at the Millsferry Annual Bake-Off, Nina joins the investigation and meets children's book illustrator Chloe Owens.'
Death by Rhubarb: "When her ex-husband's new girlfriend is served a deadly dinner, a dishy chef turns sleuth to save her restaurant."