by Ida LeClair
Charlie and me have a nice rhubarb patch in our yard. My mother give us some as a house warming present. Every summer, I make one, maybe two strawberry-rhubarb pies. I intend to do more with my rhubarb, but time gets away from me and all of a sudden it’s too late. I’d cut some and give it to friends, but most everyone I know up here has their own patch of rhubarb, and those who don’t, usually aren’t real partial to the stuff.
Personally, I love it! Rhubarb reminds me of when I was little. Sure, we had rhubarb pies in season, but we also always had rhubarb sauce on hand. I guess nowadays you’d call it compote, if you want to be fancy. I used to help my mom make it. It’s easy-peasy. All you do is cook up rhubarb with sugar and pop it in the fridge. We ate it on toast instead of jam, over crepes, and best of all, on vanilla ice cream. What a treat! Rhubarb lets you know that summer is officially here.
This year, of course, I have more time on my hands than usual. We all do. So I decided to challenge myself to use all of my rhubarb, or close to it. I know, some folks are using this time to learn a foreign language. I’m doing rhubarb. And Charlie doesn’t know what hit him.
See, he didn’t grow up with the stuff. They had a plant or two, but his mother didn’t like it, so she didn’t do anything with it. It was just something in the way, mowing the lawn.
I started by making rhubarb jam. I’ve never made jam before. Hard to believe, but true. We have generous friends who make jam, so I’ve never been motivated. But this year, I was. Besides, toast with butter and jam is one of my favorite food groups. Right up there with popcorn and M&M’s.
So I googled the hell out of it and set to work. I tried a recipe that uses lemon seeds to thicken it because apparently they have natural pectin. The jam itself was pretty straight forward, kinda like the rhubarb sauce of my youth. But the preserving part took some time. It wasn’t that hard, but I didn’t really have the right gear, so I ended up having to improvise. That slowed me down.
The jam turned out pretty good. I’d say it’s a saucy jam in consistency, and that lemon makes it real zippy. Maybe a little too zippy for Charlie, but I like it. Still, I’m a little shy in giving it out. I don’t want to kill anyone with my first batch of jam, so I’m waiting a bit. You know, working my way through a few jars to make sure the seal took and they still taste half decent. I think next year I’ll try a recipe with orange, or just make rhubarb sauce and preserve that.
Next up: rhubarb crisp. That was wicked yummy! It called for a little coconut in the topping, which was a real nice touch. Got the thumbs-up from Charlie on this one.
I tried making rhubarb muffins which were only so-so. Once, I doubled down on the rhubarb action and slathered my muffin with butter and rhubarb jam, that improved them considerably.
My last cooking adventure was making rhubarb chutney. I’d been making all this sweet stuff, and was looking for other options. Gotta say, this concoction was amazing, with golden raisins, onions, vinegar and all these exotic spices. I’m happy to report that we both liked it. I told Charlie it was spicy rhubarb sauce and left it at that. Gotta say, rhubarb chutney turned our humble grilled pork chop into an exotic experience. This is the kind of condiment that’d be a show stopper at a party (remember those?) as part of your cheese platter.
I’ve also been freezing rhubarb to use later. I work on it in batches because to do it right, you gotta freeze the pieces on a tray and then put the frozen pieces in a freezer bag so you don’t get this big lump of rhubarb. I’m looking forward to having a taste of summer later in the year. Next up: strawberries. I’ll keep you posted.
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
Read more Ida LeClair blog posts at idaswebsite.com. Ida LeClair is the alter ego of writer and performer Susan Poulin. Poulin has written and performed in six plays starring Ida LeClair and she written two books as her iconic creation, Finding Your Inner Moose and The Sweet Life.