Blessings of growing your own: from lettuce to rhubarb crisp

Rhubarb growing in the gardenIn Judaism, there’s a blessing for everything, including the eating of food from plants: “Blessed are you, God, ruler of the universe, who creates food of the earth.” It seems especially appropriate when eating food you pick from your own garden because you can see the direct connection between the food and the earth.

There is something spiritual, almost magical, about growing your own food. You throw some tiny seeds onto the soil, and a few weeks later you can pick something delicious and nutritious.

Today, I’m giving you a delicious—and easy—recipe for rhubarb crisp. But, first, take a moment just to consider the joys of gardening. Do you share our passion? (Please, add a comment below.)

Do You Love Gardening This Much?

I never had a vegetable garden growing up. My mother hopefully planted a few blueberry and bush cherry shrubs, as well as a dwarf apple tree, but we never got any fruit from them. My first home as a married woman was in a ticky-tacky graduate student apartment building at Temple University in Philadelphia.

We lived on the ground floor of the mid-1960s era building. Our two windows looked out on the back of the building, a parking lot—and a small strip of lawn outlined by a cast iron fence. Someone on the resident activities committee had the bright idea to turn that little strip of grass into garden plots, and we eagerly signed up for one.

But, the apartment building had been constructed on the site of demolished Philadelphia row houses, and the little garden plots were full of broken bricks and hunks of concrete. We spent many hours digging and screening the soil. One hapless neighbor pulled an entire marble doorstep from her plot. Finally the soil was deemed suitably rock-free, and in went the tomato and pepper plants and the lettuce and cucumber seeds.

One night a few weeks later we were just getting to sleep when we were awakened by the gleam of a flashlight and cries of glee outside our window. “Oooh, look at that!” one neighbor called out. “Wow, is that a carrot?” marveled her roommate.

We had to ask the resident activities committee to decree that gardening be done in the daylight hours only. Since then, we’ve always had some sort of vegetable garden, even if it was only a few potted tomatoes on the windowsill of our second apartment, which was on the second floor.

Our first rhubarb plant

Our first rhubarb—producing just enough to enjoy!

Early lettuce and turnips

Early lettuce and turnips

The Long Odyssey
of the Prized Rhubarb Plant

In our garden, we now grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, zucchini, eggplant and more. A few years ago we bought a rhubarb plant, and this year, for the first time, it produced enough rhubarb to eat.

Rhubarb developed in Asia, where for millennia it was valued for medicinal purposes. As an import to Europe, it was more valuable than cinnamon, opium and saffron. Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, a Castilian diplomat, wrote in the early 1400s of his stay in Samarkand, “The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand (in Uzbekistan) was from China, especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls and rhubarb…”

Rhubarb had become very popular as a tasty dish by the 1700s. By the early 20th century, Americans were consuming 30 tons of it every year. But I had never even heard of rhubarb until I was at least 10, maybe older, and then it was something in stories about early American life, not something people I knew actually ate. I recently read a convincing theory that rhubarb fell out of favor in the latter part of the 20th century because of sugar rationing during World War II. Rhubarb is inedible without a lot of sweetener. With sugar in short supply, practical cooks in the 1940s turned to fruit, such as apples, for their pies and crumbles.

The edible part of rhubarb is the stalk; in fact, the leaves are toxic. The stalks, which resemble celery stalks, can be green tinged with pink or bright red, depending on the variety. Don’t try to eat them raw; they need to be stewed or baked. A surfeit of rhubarb can be easily frozen, either in whole stalks or cut in pieces. You can cook it directly from the freezer, without defrosting it first. Here is a simple recipe for Rhubarb Crisp that we made with the first batch we picked. I adapted it from a recipe I found on food.com, contributed by “Selfie,” a cook who proudly declared: “Mom’s recipe! Easy to make and easy to eat.”

Do you have a great rhubarb recipe to share? Or a comment about some other old-fashioned but newly discovered food? Are you looking forward to cooking with produce you’re growing yourself? Let us hear from you!

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Comments

  1. Mary Liepold says

    We had a rhubarb patch in our back yard in La Crosse, WI, & it came up every year, thriving on benign neglect. My mom cooked it with sugar into a simple sauce, & there was always a mason jar of it in the frij in high summer. We ate it with top milk (aka cream) & it was fabulously slippery & cool.

    As a word woman, though, I’m tickled by the other uses of the term – to be in a rhubarb (a fuss) or as a yada yada-like space filler in the theater. I’m trying to remember what musical has a great patter song with the line “Rhubarb, rhubarb, sis boom bah.” Or like that. Is it one of Sondheim’s? Anybody remember?

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/rhubarb-is-not-just-a-vegetable/

  2. Janice says

    We get a lot of pleasure out of growing our own food. Rhubarb holds a special place in my heart, both due to childhood memories and family connections; our rhubarb patch consists of transplants from my husband’s childhood home. One of my big discoveries is that rhubarb can also be a savory foodstuff. Here’s a link to a Curried Rhubarb Chicken. http://20minutegarden.com/2010/06/02/di-homemade-spice-rack/

    The star of our kitchen garden might be kale, which counts both as old-fashioned and newly discovered (relatively speaking!) for us. We’ve grown kale for past 10 years (so just 1/3 of our gardening lives!), and we eat a lot of it in dozens recipes. I sure don’t want to hurry summer along, but I almost can’t wait for the harvest to begin.

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