This morning, in our small group at church, we were offered a choice of sweet or sour snacks (generally someone brings treats, whether storebought or homemade). The sweet was rocky road brownies, which – I was told – were very sweet. The “sour” wasn’t really sour, just tart – rhubarb crisp. I declined the brownies, and eagerly took a serving of rhubarb crisp.
I’m not sure how old I was when my mother stopped cooking rhubarb. She had gradually been moving towards more healthy eating, since having to give up chocolate when she was pregnant with my older sister (her colitis no doubt played a role in this process). She still made some desserts when I was little, so long as they were relatively healthy desserts – rice pudding and Indian pudding were two of my favorites. I don’t know if the stewed rhubarb counted as a dessert or not, but I always enjoyed eating it.
I’ve had rice pudding occasionally over the years, but never any as good as what I remember my mother making, in that oblong yellow casserole. I haven’t ever had Indian pudding since then, and haven’t attempted to make it myself, especially as it has a long baking time at a low temperature, and I don’t know that the rest of my family would want to join me in eating it. I have had strawberry rhubarb pie sometimes, and possibly rhubarb pie, but I don’t remember having stewed rhubarb since I was a little girl.
Everyone else at the table this morning – at least those who tried the rhubarb crisp – exclaimed at how very tart it was. That’s how a couple of them like it – including the husband of the woman who made it – but they still thought it was very tart. I tried it – and liked it very much – and thought that it was barely tart at all. I don’t know if that means my tastebuds aren’t very sensitive, or that I just have tasted skewed to the tart rather than the sweet end of the spectrum (since giving up most sweets, I find most of them taste too sweet when I do try them).
In any case, I happily accepted a bag of rhubarb stalks to take home, though I had never cooked rhubarb in my life and wasn’t sure what I’d do with them. But if my mother, who never learned to cook growing up (her family had servants to do cooking and housework) and had to teach herself from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook, could cook rhubarb, so could I. I pulled out my Fannie Farmer (not my mother’s copy, but one my husband’s grandmother gave me, our first Christmas together), found the recipe for stewed rhubarb, and got started.
I admit I didn’t follow it exactly. For one thing, it called for a pound of rhubarb. I figured I had at least two pounds, but no scale to weigh it on. So I doubled the recipe, except the sugar, since I didn’t want it too sweet, and I left out the lemon rind since I didn’t have any. My mother had a kitchen scale, but I bet she didn’t have any lemon rind either, and I bet she cut down on the sugar too. (Actually, she would have used raw sugar rather than white, but I used what I had.)
She wouldn’t have gotten busy on the computer (of course not – PCs didn’t exist back then) and forgotten about it. After a while, my husband asked if I was making cookies, and I dashed to the stove to find the rhubarb had boiled over and I had burnt sugar on the burner (which is what my husband had smelled). But that washed off, and the rhubarb came out so well I had two bowlfuls.