Rhubarb started off on the wrong foot with my family. Not until I was 16 years old, it dawned upon our family, the monstrous red stalk and big leafy bushes in our backyard, were rhubarb.
Alien Red Stalked Plant with Poisonous Leaves
When I was 10 years old, we were excited to have our first ever grassy backyard –even if it overlooked an electrical substation over our wire fence. It was my parents’ first house in Waterloo, Ontario after all of us jammed into an one bedroom apartment, with 5 children for a few years.
After moving into our drafty, old house and after kid number 6 was born, the following spring we noticed strange red stalks sprouting rapidly by our twisted purple lilac tree. We saw the rhubarb bushes as just another alien plant — a tad wierder than our gnarly, flaking bark lilac tree which twisted naturally in a large bonsai shape.
We tried to get rid of rhubarb bushes by digging up the stalks. Then we took the gas lawn mower and cut it down.
Yes, we were savage and brutal to the rhubarb patches. We had 2 large patches. Rhubarb is not at all part of Chinese culinary repetoire or culture. Hence, my immigrant parents were unintentionally rhubarb henchmen by sheer ignorance. After several seasons of effort, rhubarb was truly decimated for good.
Only years later, did we slowly realize the giant leafy stalks were edible.
Every spring for the past decade, Jack and I stock up on fresh spring rhubarb for fruit compote. Unfortunately here in Alberta, I can’t expect luxuriant harvests at the local farmers’ markets. Often they ship them from British Columbia next door, where there is more rain and earlier spring warmth to jumpstart rhubarb patches.
I enjoy a well-made rhubarb pie or rhubarb crumble muffin. However it’s easiest to boil up a rhubarb mixed fruit compote to plop over our plain yogurt and cereal. We enjoy Jack’s homemade rhubarb compote that’s best nearly
hot from the bubbling mess in the pot with blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or blueberries. He douses the stove batch with whatever spice is available –cinnamon, crushed anise seed, chopped mint, honey or maple syrup. No sugar is used at all. On the occasional whim, less than a cup of white wine might be kicked into the batch a few minutes before done. You don’t want to cook off the white wine.
A far cry from the teenage rhubarb mow-down — spring rhubarb sweetened with other fruit to grace a dinner finale.