Memoir Piece - Men of Rhubarb

Rhubarb is an ancient plant that has been grown from a time dating back to 2000BC. The early Chinese believed it had medicinal value. Its use as a food source is relatively recent by comparison. It is a member of the sorrel family making it more closely related to the herbs in the garden than the fruits and vegetables.

The growing of rhubarb has been a given in my family for several generations. My grandfather and father before me each grew this flavoursome plant. My father taught me how to harvest the stalks and warned me never to eat the leaves, which are toxic. Even as a boy, I found it ironic that a plant that so tantalized my taste buds, (despite its tartness) also had the capacity to make me extremely ill.

I clearly recall my Dad enjoying rhubarb as a dessert with freshly made custard. I quickly followed his lead. It made for a great contrast in colour, texture and flavour- and what a taste treat! Because rhubarb has such a strongly tart flavour, it requires some tempering. I like to cook it with cinnamon, ginger and some finely chopped apple. Unfortunately, it also requires some raw sugar to balance the taste as well. I try not to add too much. Rhubarb and apple pie, rhubarb and custard, rhubarb tart are all delightful ways to enjoy this unique plant -and I have savoured them all. Not everyone in my family feels so enamoured by the prospect of rhubarb I must admit somewhat sadly. You need special abilities to enjoy its amazing flavour and sadly some of us were not born with the right taste buds. We all have our crosses to bear.

Dad was so adept at growing rhubarb that we always seemed to have an over supply. He often sold bunches of it to the local green grocer who claimed it was rhubarb of the highest quality. Brilliant red and pink stalks tied with strings- so fresh, so delicious. My father was so proud of his rhubarb growing. It was rhubarb raised on love.

If you were to wander through my garden you would find a humble rhubarb plant flourishing amid the herbs. To this day when I cook up a fresh batch of rhubarb, I recall my Dad and his carefully maintained rhubarb patch.


  1. From now on Alan I won't be able to think about rhubarb without thinking about you and your dad


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