About five feet from our back door lives a beautiful plant with leaves as big as pillows. (I guess this is the only comparison I can come up with at the moment because I am a little creeped out by the Thomas the Tank Engine pillow that is currently staring at me from across the room as I write.) Under these pillow-sized leaves you will find dozens of stalks of rhubarb that are a vibrant magenta. The color of this fruit or vegetable (or whatever you call this magnificent perennial) is so vibrant that its tartness pierces your tongue and cheeks just by looking at it. I never knew rhubarb could be so glorious until I began my journey as a temporary stay-at-home mom.
Our poor rhubarb plant spent the last five years being neglected. Sure we had watered the darn thing every now and then to keep it alive, and my husband did freeze some stalks last summer. However, I ended up throwing the frozen stalks in the trash to make way for more important foods like dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets. Even our elderly neighbor Phil shamed us for ignoring our rhubarb. For the past five springs he has stopped by our house to ask us about what we planned on doing with our gigantic fruit or vegetable plant. (Seriously, is rhubarb a fruit or vegetable?) Phil seemed very concerned about our failure to harvest the plentiful supply of rhubarb from our own backyard each spring and early summer. He may have even taken matters into his own hands by harvesting some rhubarb for himself and his third wife one year. Well, this summer I am making Phil proud. I am harvesting our plant like there is no tomorrow!
There are several reasons for finally doing something with the rhubarb plant this summer. The main reason is my son. He has been very curious about the plant since it started coming out of hiding after the never-ending winter we had in Minnesota this year. He has the best view of the plant while we eat at the kitchen table, and during each meal our son would ask us what the plant was called and whether we could make a pie with the rhubarb. Since I have never made a pie in my life, my mother-in-law was gracious enough to show my son how to make rhubarb pie. The following week they made rhubarb crisp together. After that, I decided that rhubarb was actually pretty tasty. Since I had recently quit my job to stay at home with my kids this summer, I also decided that it was time to finally get adventurous in the kitchen. And because I have an endless supply of rhubarb five feet away from the kitchen door, I decided that I had no reason to deprive our plant of attention anymore. Plus, I am saving money by harvesting what is in my own background. Now Phil is happy. My son is happy. I am happy. And my family’s wallet is happy.
Before this summer, I never realized there was so much one could make with rhubarb. So far our plant has produced the following:
- one rhubarb pie
- one rhubarb crisp
- 2.5 pints of rhubarb jam
- one rhubarb coffee cake
- one loaf of rhubarb streusel bread
This week I plan on making scones and salsa with our rhubarb. After that, I may need to leave the plant alone before I suffocate it with too much attention and before I make my family gag at the sight of yet another meal with rhubarb in it. Once I make the salsa this week, which is going to accompany grilled salmon, we will have had rhubarb for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert all within seven days. Overkill? Probably. But baking and cooking with rhubarb has become somewhat therapeutic for me this summer, and there are so many ideas for cooking and baking with rhubarb on Pinterest that I simply can’t resist picking more stalks to whip up another rhubarb dish.
Prior to quitting my job, I found little enjoyment in baking and cooking. After picking my kids up from daycare during the week, it would already be 6 o’clock before my husband and I got a chance to start cooking dinner. I tried to stick with planning quick meals so we could be done eating by 7 o’clock and have one hour of play time with the kids before it was time for them to go to bed. This meant our menu options were very limited and somewhat boring. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to incorporate new meals because it was easier to go to the grocery store without a list of new items that I would have to search for in unfamiliar aisles. With my “classic” meals to fall back on, I could fly through the store and pick the items I was already familiar with and knew how to prepare without wasting much of my precious time looking for new items. Plus, I had always struggled with having patience while cooking and baking. I burn things. I burn a lot of things in the kitchen. Perhaps that is why my son will not eat anything with cracked pepper on it because he associates cracked pepper with burned food, which usually doesn’t taste great. If he finds even the smallest speck of something black on his chicken he will refuse to eat it. Yeah, cooking is not really my thing. But I am finally taking some time to enjoy it, even if I do continue to burn things, including the rhubarb bread I made a few days ago.
Having patience in the the kitchen is difficult for me because I can’t stand sitting around and waiting for something to happen. I feel useless just waiting, so I usually find other things to do like washing the dirty dishes, folding the pile of clean laundry, scrubbing away the new crayon mark in the grout of the tile floor, or checking Facebook and Pinterest. And my kids tend to decide that it is the best time to argue with each other or bring all of their toys in the kitchen while I am trying to cook. With all of this comotion going on, it’s no wonder I burn food and forget to add key ingredients to the dishes I prepare. But in some strange way, my rhubarb plant has forced me to finally become a more patient person when I am in the kitchen.
In an effort to not screw up new recipes and meals as much as possible, I have had to focus on slowing down. And I have realized that it is okay to slow down. Slowing down doesn’t mean that I am lazy; I am simply trying to be more intentional. I am enjoying the moment, even when my daughter is holding on to my leg for her dear life and screaming/crying/whining because I cannot hold her while I am chopping up fruits, veggies, meats, herbs, rhubarb and more rhubarb. By slowing down I am able to think about and reflect on what I am doing. Sometimes I simply think about how a particular combination of spices and herbs work together to enhance a dish. Most times I think about how I will present a meal to my children in the most attractive way as possible in order to hopefully avoid hearing, “I don’t want to eat that!” I am fairly certain that’s the last thing any mom wants to hear after putting food on the table. And other times I think about how slowing down has been good for me. It’s good for me to be able to acknowledge when it’s time to slow down in order to avoid burning another meal and burning myself out again.
So, thank you glorious rhubarb plant for teaching me a wonderful lesson in life this summer. And thank you for feeding my family breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Now it’s your turn to put your rhubarb plant to good use. Don’t disappoint Phil. And if you don’t have a rhubarb plant, get one and plant it if you have space outside for one to grow. Your rhubarb plant may change your world. Rhubarb is awesome (just remember to only eat the stalks, I guess the leaves are poisonous). Go, rhubarb, go!